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Nature as medicineTree leaves dancing in the wind are good for our brains


Subconsciously we already knew this, but more and more research has confirmed it: the notion that nature has a highly positive effect on our health. In Scotland doctors even prescribe 'nature' as medication. ''Looking at complex, erratic structures, such as tree leaves dancing in the wind, is good for the brain'.


An increasing number of studies show that 'nature' greatly helps our well-being, health and ability to relax. A walk through the woods, fields or other outdoor locations leads to a reduction of pain and negative emotions, such as anger and depression, and an increase in energy and positive feelings.


Green postcode areas

Some statistics for you: 25% of all Dutch people over the age of 18 go into nature a few times a year at most. For 18-24 year olds that increases to 41%, and in Dutch postcode areas with at least 5 hectares of green space (such as parks and green areas), the percentage of overweight children is around 18% lower than in less green postcode areas.

Two hours is enough 

A recent study of 20,000 British people showed that spending even two to three hours in nature can have an effect on health. People who spent more than two hours a week in a wood, park, rural area or by the coast were often happier and healthier.

A particularly striking detail is that it did not matter if these two hours were consecutive or spread over the week. 'Most importantly, these effects were observed in all participants', noted Dr. Mathew White. 'The effects were comparable for both rich and pool, young and old, urban and rural and healthy and chronically ill'.


De natuur als medicijn

Nature is our 'home'

For Mark Mieras, physicist and science journalist, this effect is logical.  He has been following the research on this subject for years and recently wrote the 'Green city, vital city' study for municipalities and provinces.  'As humans we evolved in nature, it is our home. Nature is a part of our system. Yet over the past century we have moved further and further away from nature. The Netherlands is one of the most urbanised countries in the world, and this is taking its toll. You can see the positive effects from the moment we return to nature. You come into your own, you have more energy and more attention. This isn't just an observation - you can measure it'.

Looking at complex, erratic structures is good for the brain

Dancing tree leaves

According to Mieras, the explanation lies among all the other things in our brains. 'They never switch off, our brains are always looking for stimuli and nature provides plenty of this. Nature is always in motion, just think of the complex patterns in tree leaves and blades of grass in the wind.  These stimuli are complex for the eyes but simple for the brain: they  require 'soft attention', which leaves room for thoughts and organising. People who spend 40 seconds looking at their gardens make visibly fewer mistakes, and in departments with more greenery, employees were on average 15% more productive'.


Three levels of nature.

There are three levels of this type of beneficial greenery: flowerbeds, (city) parks and 'big' nature, such as forests and sand dunes. 'Even the smallest bit of greenery can help, such as mini gardens on the side of city pavements. As a human however, the best is to enjoy your recommended portion of nature across all three levels. You should enjoy the smaller ones as often as possible during the day, the larger ones several times a week, and the largest ones, where you can fully immerse yourself, several times a month. If not, stress accumulates and you fall into unhealthy habits: snacking, channel surfing and gloomy thinking'.

'Bathing in the woods'

According to Mieras, what you do when you are in nature, whether it is sports, walking briskly or simply sitting and thinking, does not matter. 'Simply by seeing nature around you, your brain and body get the chance to repair the accumulated damaged caused by stress and pressure. This explains why you get better ideas during a brainstorming session in nature and why spending time in nature is relaxing and liberating. The Japanese do not have the age-old tradition of 'bathing in the woods' for nothing.

Story 29 of 33

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