Being outside in nature makes people feel more alive, according to a recent report in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. And that sense of increased vitality exists above and beyond the energizing effects of physical activity and social interaction that are often associated with our forays into the natural world.
The findings, says Richard Ryan, lead author and a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, are important for both mental and physical health. "Research has shown that people with a greater sense of vitality don’t just have more energy for things they want to do, they are also more resilient to physical illnesses. One of the pathways to health may be to spend more time in natural settings.”
To reach the conclusion, authors conducted five separate experiments, involving 537 college students in actual and imagined contexts. In Study 1, participants were led on a 15-minute walk through indoor hallways or along a tree-lined river path. In Study 2, the undergraduates viewed photographic scenes of buildings or landscapes.In Study 3, participants were exposed to photographic scenes of either nature or buildings. Results showed that only the nature scenes enhanced subjective vitality.
The final two studies tracked participants’ moods and energy levels throughout the day using diary entries. Over either four days or two weeks, students recorded their exercise, social interactions, time spent outside, and exposure to natural environments, including plants and windows. Being outdoors was associated with greater vitality, a relation that was mediated by the presence of natural elements.
Across all methodologies, individuals consistently felt more energetic when they spent time in natural settings or imagined themselves in such situations.
The findings were particularly robust, notes Ryan; being outside in nature for just 20 minutes in a day was enough to significantly boost vitality levels. Interestingly, in the last study, the presence of nature had an independent energizing effect above that of being outdoors. In other words, conclude the authors, being outdoors was vitalizing in large part because of the presence of nature.
Journal Reference: Richard M. Ryan, Netta Weinstein, Jessey Bernstein, Kirk Warren Brown, Louis Mistretta, Marylène Gagné. Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2010; 30 (2): 159