Because of technology, nature is something that we often take for granted. The products of nature are occasionally the things we need to survive, but one thing that is sometimes overlooked is the naturally occurring therapy it can provide many patients. Nature therapy, otherwise known as ecotherapy, is a therapeutic approach that combines personal wellness, community improvement, and sustainability. Nature therapy is a new way of treating or helping mental health through the environment.
Nature therapy has so many benefits to improving mental health, and spending time outdoors is an important step in this. By being able to immerse a patient in the fresh air, the patient can start to feel the improved effects of the exercise and productivity. Doctor John La Puma is a certified internist and organic farmer who sincerely believes that doctors should be writing prescriptions for patients who suffer from a “nature deficit” and does studies on the growing field of nature therapy. Nature Deficient Disorder, or NDD, is a true clinical problem Dr. La Puma says. Nature Deficiency Disorder has plenty of related conditions, which can include obesity, cardiovascular illnesses, attention-deficient disorder (ADD), anxiety, and burnout syndrome.
Dr. La Puma believes that one day, nature therapy will be just as important of a lifestyle intervention as studies with nurtirion and exercise, having both healthy long term and short term affects.
As proven by many studies, walking in a typically urban setting compared to walking in a forest or a park has been linked to improved short term memory, better concentration, stable cortisol levels, natural killer cell number and activity to improve the immune system, and healthier heart rate and blood pressure. Along with this, additional benefits can include better postoperative recovery and health, birth outcomes for pregnant women, and control in the levels of pain some individuals feel. According to studies done of several community gardeners, the gardeners are less likely to develop dementia than those who do not garden.
So what is nature therapy at its core? Nature therapy is an evidence-based field that uses natural settings and nature-based interventions, such as gardening, to help patients. This type of theapy helps patients improve the signs, symptoms and conditions of patients as well as their general well-being. The current research in green medicine comes from a variety of different fields of study, such as horticulture, architecture, forestry, auditory and color science, and botanical medicine. There are several subcategories of nature therapy, such as: adventure therapy, animal-assisted therapy, blue care, care farms, ecotherapy, forest bathing, green exercise, nature meditation, gardening, and wilderness immersion. Nature therapy in the United States is way different than in many other countries. In the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Korea, and many more countries, have very advance research dedicated to the topic of ecotherapy and green medicine. Some countries even have traditions and customs in the field of nature therapy, however much of that same research has not yet been translated. There is an unknown amount of physicians practicing nature therapy, however the amount of people being prescribed the therapy is increasing. Care farms, pet therapy, and therapeutic horiculture (otherwise known as gardening), is often given to patients that are guided by recreational therapists. Physicians, typically in emergency medicine, often lead forest and adventure groups, green exercise, and wilderness immersion groups. Psychologists and therapists occasionally take extra courses and trainings to be able to practice as an ecotherapist.
The typical types of medical conditions that benefit heavily from nature therapy are ADD/ADHD, anxiety, insomnia, hypertension (high blood pressure), and myopia (nearsightedness/eyestrain). When studies were conducted on people who had anxiety, a nature walk revealed that there were reduced symptoms is those with anxiety compared to the symptoms of anxiety from those who walked through a shopping center. Not only that, but the effects of nature therapy is not just what patients see, but what they hear and smell as well. Participants in one study recovered quicker from stress when they listened to sounds found in nature, such as a stream of water or the sound of birds in the forest, than when they were exposed to the noises of road traffic. Similarly, the smell of fruit and food inhaled by hospital patients reduced a depressive mood compared to those who did not smell those things.
When it comes to exercise, physicians that study in the field often use the specific tool when talking about exercise, which is mentioning a specific location to exercise with their patients. Exercising in nature is effective and therapeutic (as well as less expensive) than exercising indoors. Along with this, experts recommend, at minimum, a view of nature. Whether that be a picture, poster, or looking out your window, patients recover faster when they are exposed to a view rather than spending all their time indoors.
Deliberate exposure to nature improves productivity, focus, creativity, and much more. Because so many people work long hours in offices, or spend too much time doing work, they forget about the importance of going outside. It’s easy to stay indoors and stare at screens all day, but nature can help each one of us improve our health and consequently help patients and colleagues.