You don’t need a gorgeous view like this to benefit from nature, but isn’t this soothing? (Author photo)

There’s never been a better time to keep nature-health benefits at your fingertips if you’re in the business of shaping outdoor spaces or activities for people. Health is on people’s minds like never before as we fight COVID-19. You know all about nature-health benefits because you took my class, right? Even if you didn’t (or if you can’t remember everything), here’s a two-minute pocket reference, yours to bookmark and share. 

Specific to the pandemic, peaceful natural areas, especially vegetation and water, can help with several of those pesky underlying conditions that make us high-risk for infection, serious illness, and death. Research has shown that being around such areas measurably lowers stress indicators in the body, like cortisol levels and blood pressure. Other studies have found associations between nature exposure and lower rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and inflammation.  Some studies have even found improvement in immune system function. Like the immune system function we need to fight off this virus, for example.  

Speaking of extreme relevance: time in natural environments can also reduce anxiety and depression, as well as mental fatigue and even full-blown PTSD.  Who couldn’t use that right now? Here’s a handy list of those benefits, from my book-in-progress

Mental Health benefits of urban wilds
(from “Wild and Healthy” in Design by Deficit: Neglect and the Accidental City)

  • Reduces mental fatigue 
  • Improves alertness, performance, memory
  • Reduces stress/impact of stressful events 
  • Reduces depression
  • Enhances cognitive functioning
  • Reduces childhood ADHD symptoms
  • Reduces negative symptoms in dementia patients
  • Increases life, place, job satisfaction

A couple things to remember about this research: 

  1.  These are rigorous published studies, not merely opinion or conjecture. 
  2. These benefits work best via every day exposure. In terms of wellness habits, nature exposure is more like brushing your teeth than like running an ultra-marathon. It works, but you need to do it regularly to get the benefit. It’s not about overnight miracles.
  3. You don’t need a wilderness or a jaw-dropping view to get these benefits. Street trees, planting beds, even just a view with vegetation works. Small is fine, if it’s all the time.
  4. By and large these studies don’t make strong statements about *how* these links work, but that likely doesn’t matter much to you if you just want to get your blood pressure down. 

If you need more information about any of these benefits: 
Here’s a good readable article suitable for distributing to your clients.

Here’s an authoritative journal article for those who want more science in this. 

And here’s a comprehensive resource about benefits of nature for cities from the University of Washington, College of the Environment, with an extensive bibliography for further reading as well as a really readable guide to benefits.