Besides proven treatment results, nature can also make us happy and bring family closer.
Nature-Based Interventions Improve Mental Health
In a 2019 research report, researchers analyzed findings from five randomized control trial studies and concluded that there is a significant effect of nature on mental well-being of patients with somatic disease.
The five studies were all quantitative, with a control group and a nature-based intervention; the five respective interventions are:
Self-chosen restorative outdoor activities (e.g., visiting a scenic spot, tending gardens, watching a beautiful sunset) 120 min a week for 5 weeks. Controls: treatment-as-usual
4-day program in the countryside, living in a cottage and participating in outdoor recreational activities (e.g., fishing, canoeing)
Private bedroom with a panoramic view to natural surroundings. Controls: private bedroom with view to partially or entirely blocked building
6-day outdoor adventure program including instruction and supervision by program staff
Therapeutic Nordic Walking, 45 mins, on avg. 2 times per week, for 4 weeks, in supplement to the standard intervention of the hospital (e.g., medication, nursing care, occupational, psycho- and physiotherapy). Control group only received the standard intervention
Summarizing the results with regard to statistical significance and effect size, researchers found that four out of five studies reported a significant effect on a mental health outcome as a result of a nature-based intervention and the effects sizes ranged from “small” to “medium.”
Nature Makes Us Happy
In addition to nature-based therapeutic interventions, researchers say that nature, specifically voluntary park visits, can generate mental gains for everyone.
An Australian researcher once interviewed 238 outdoor nature and adventure tourists of all ages and backgrounds, and tried to determine whether they visit parks because they are happy, or they are happy because they visit parks.
A large majority of people, 82%, picked the latter.
The proportion who considered that park visits lead to greater happiness was significantly greater than the proportion who took the opposite view. That is, of those who gave either one of these two direct responses, 82% said that nature tourism made them happy.
Of those asked, 87.5% reported short-term emotional benefits; 60%, medium-term recovery from stress; and 20%, long-term changes in worldview.
Indeed, the results suggest that people may deliberately use outdoor nature tourism as personal mental health therapy. They choose to spend time in nature by visiting parks, and they know that this makes them happier, helps them recover from stress, and in some cases, helps improve clarity and life purpose.
Nature Brings Family Closer
What are the mental health benefits of outdoor activities such as family-hiking with young children?
To find out, researchers conducted 24 in-depth conversations with families during a hiking trip in the forest. It showed that family hiking can generate a sense of here-and-now presences that can strengthen core family relations.
The intention of hiking as a family in the countryside is to perform an activity together where all members participate both to create a good experience in an environment without stress and to cultivate the family as a unit.
One parent in the study said,
It’s about experiencing things together that are just for the four of us in the family. Because in our everyday life, they all rush about doing all kinds of things separately. And that means stress, but getting outdoors like now, they’re together and doing things together.
Researchers say that a “we” appears as soon as the family starts to walk together with a common aim – a common meaning that gives a sense of closeness.
Baklien, Børge, et al. “When everyday life becomes a storm on the horizon: families’
experiences of good mental health while hiking in nature.” Anthropology & Medicine,
vol. 23, no. 1, 2016, pp. 42-53.
Trøstrup, C. H., et al. “The effect of nature exposure on the mental health of patients:
a systematic review.” Quality of Life Research, vol. 28, 2019, pp. 1695–1703.
Buckley, Ralf. “Nature tourism and mental health: parks, happiness, and causation.” Journal of Sustainable Tourism, vol. 28, no. 9, 2020, pp. 1409–1424.