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The mental and physical health benefits of ecotherapy
There are countless studies that prove ecotherapy (often referred to as nature therapy) is beneficial for your physical and mental health.
- What was once considered a simple practice and ideology about the benefits of nature has been proven in multiple studies to positively impact our physical and mental health.
- Some of the benefits of spending time in nature can be: a boost in killer-cells that fight off viruses, an ability to maintain focus and improvement in mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.
- To explain the all-encompassing benefits of nature, the Japanese have coined the term "shinrin yoku", which translates to "forest bathing."
Ecotherapy (also referred to as nature therapy) has been proven to be effective and is used in various practices and cultures around the world—and yet, it is still one of the most under-appreciated forms of therapy.
For a period of time, nature therapy was considered a simple practice for those who believe that we are connected to and impacted by the natural environments around us. However, there is now more research to support this ideology.
How nature therapy works to better your physical and mental health
A simple walk in the forest can have more of a positive impact on your health than you may realize.
The benefits of nature have been studied for decades. In fact, in 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries coined the term "shinrin yoku", which means "forest bathing."
Nature increases activity in natural killer cells that fight off viruses.
While we stroll around the forest, breathing in the fresh air, airborne chemicals like phytoncides (a chemical many plants give off to fight disease) are also entering our system. When this happens, the human body responds by increasing the number of natural killer blood cells (a type of white blood cell) which attack virus-infected cells.
In one 2009 study, participants spent 3 days/2 nights in a forested area. Their blood and urine were sampled before, during, and after the trip. Natural killer cell activity measured significantly higher during the days spent in the forest and the effect lasted up to 30 days after the trip.
This suggests that a few days in nature every month could potentially allow your natural killer cell activity to maintain at a higher functioning level, protecting you better.
Spending time in nature has numerous mental health benefits.
This groundbreaking research analysis of 10 UK studies involving over 1200 participants considered all the ways time in nature (known as green exercise) can improve a person's mental health and wellbeing.
The results of this analysis proved that both men and women have similar self-esteem improvements after experiencing time spent in nature, and the boost in mood particularly impacted men. The analysis showed the greatest improvements in mental health with the participants who were struggling with a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.
A more recent study looked at the relationship between psychological responses and forest environments. Using the Profile of Mood States questionnaire, this research found that time spent in nature significantly decreased the scores for anxiety, depression, anger, confusion, and fatigue.
A walk in nature is more beneficial than a walk in the city.
Results of a 2008 study compared the restorative effects of natural versus urban environments, with natural environments proving vastly more beneficial. Nature, which is filled with intriguing stimuli, is able to modestly grab your attention in a way that requires no effort or additional actions. Urban areas can be filled with stimulation that captures your attention and requires additional directed actions (for example, stopping at a crosswalk).
This is why a walk in nature is much more beneficial for our minds than a walk in an urban setting—our minds are able to "switch off," giving time for restorative rest.
Nature related activities may be of use in future ADHD therapies.
Directed Attention Fatigue (DAF) is something you may be struggling with without even realizing it. It's a very common neuro-psychological phenomenon that results in the overuse of the brain's attention mechanisms. These mechanisms typically work for us to help us cope with distraction while maintaining on a specific task, but when we overuse that function, it becomes weaker and our ability to focus on task lessens.
Along with that, the part of the brain affected by attention fatigue (the right frontal cortex) is also involved in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This study shows that children diagnosed with ADHD who spent time in natural outdoor environments show a reduction in ADHD symptoms. This is promising for the field of ADHD research, as nature therapy could potentially be used as part of an all-encompassing treatment plan.
Various therapies have been incorporating nature-related benefits for years, including:
- animal-assisted therapy
- horticultural therapy
- physical exercise in nature
- conservation therapy
- nature therapy
- Nature-deficit disorder: why nature is important to children - Big Think ›
- Scottish doctors can now prescribe nature to their patients - Big Think ›
- Experiencing nature on TV/VR boosts wellbeing, study finds - Big Think ›
The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
A study looks at the ingredients of a good scare.
Catching fear in a bottle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDYyNzg1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTQwMTcyMn0.WtpJ1E_dhK2o09fBpKARynj4_p5NXeklgsXsbd7xr9w/img.jpg?width=980" id="8ff51" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f10dd9188b173f4a36e85e9325507c6b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Photo Boards/Unsplash<p>Previous studies have tracked physiological signs of fear arousal, but none have established a one-to-one correlation between that arousal and specific, actual fear events.</p><p>Andersen says that much of the research has been conducted in lab settings with weak fear stimuli, observing subjects as they experience things like scary videos. Scares in these situations tend to be weak and difficult to measure. Even harder to track in these situations is the link between enjoyment and fear. </p>
Eyes everywhere<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/109695164" width="100%" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="267ba87cfb8591ed5830499574d2272a"></iframe><p>Andersen and his colleagues conducted their experiments at <a href="https://dystopia.dk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Dystopia</a> Haunted House, a commercial attraction in Vejle, Denmark constructed in an old, run-down factory. The Recreational Fear Lab has a long-standing partnership with the spook shack.</p><p>They outfitted 100 volunteers with heart monitors and sent them on their terrifying way through the 50-room horror mansion. The facility incorporates a number of fright mechanisms including frequent jump scares in which a sudden threat takes a visitor by surprise.</p><p>Researchers surreptitiously observed their participants on closed-circuit video as they made their way through the attraction. They tracked each individual's scares, scoring them for intensity according to their visible reactions. After exiting the attraction, individuals self-reported their experiences in the haunted house.</p><p>Combining these self-reports with observer notes and each participant's heart-rate data gave the researchers subjective, behavioral, and physiological insights into the ways in which fear is experienced, and when it's a good thing or not.</p>
A pair of inverted U-shapes<p>In analyzing their data, the researchers saw two separate inverted u-shape curves. One depicted participants' enjoyment based on their self-reports and observed behavior. A similar u-curve was detected in their heart rates showing that just the right amount of heartbeat acceleration is associated with fun, but too much is too much. It's the terror Goldilocks zone.</p><p>Says Andersen, "If people are not very scared, they do not enjoy the attraction as much, and the same happens if they are too scared. Instead, it seems to be the case that a 'just-right' amount of fear is central for maximizing enjoyment."</p><p>The research suggests that being scared is enjoyable when it represents just a quick minor physiological deviation from one's normal state. When it goes on too long, however, or triggers too severe a physiological change, it becomes disturbing. Game over.</p><p>Andersen notes that this is not dissimilar to the factors known to make interpersonal play enjoyable: just the right amount of uncertainty and surprise. These are, maybe not coincidentally, also the ingredients of a successful joke.</p>
A meteorite that smashed into a frozen lake in Michigan may explain the origins of life on Earth, finds study.
- A new paper reveals a meteorite that crashed in Michigan in 2018 contained organic matter.
- The findings support the panspermia theory and could explain the origins of life on Earth.
- The organic compounds on the meteorite were well-preserved.
Meteor streaks through Michigan sky<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="80b7f30820153b35fc515592d7475f53"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EPu2qnqMYBo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The meteorite that smashed into Strawberry Lake carried pristine extraterrestrial organic compounds.
Credit: Field Museum