Dr Forest at your service

This section is linked to exercise 3 Patterns in nature, 6 Forest for rest, 11 Peace of mind in the city

Not only are trees and plants wonderful to look at in a city, a green view is so much more than just decoration. A green environment improves the quality of life. Research shows that patients recover much faster in a green environment, residents of green neighbourhoods make less use of healthcare services, and employees of companies surrounded by greenery, feel much happier. In addition, a city park will encourage people to exercise and relax there, which will improve their health.

If you are feeling nervous, worried or stressed, what helps you to calm down in a situation like that? When thousands of people were asked this, almost all of them answered, “spending time in nature”. Research reveals that natural environments parks, forests, meadows etc. can reduce our stress levels, stop us from thinking the worrisome thoughts, and make us better able to focus our tasks requiring our attention. In addition, spending time out in nature, makes us feel like we have more energy.

It is maybe hard to believe, but before we built cities, apartment buildings, had TVs, internet connections and all other comforts, human beings lived close to nature. This made us very attuned to nature. You can think of it as birds being able to navigate from Africa to Europe every spring. Similarly, we evolved in connection with nature and her cycles.

But even after years and years of living in the cities, our bodies have not changed that much. We will react to nature in a way that our bodies remember That is why when we get stressed in a built environment with all the flashing lights, sharp corners and sudden noises, we restore when we go out into a natural environment with the dominating green colour, sounds of birds, wind and water, as well as the fresh air and the fresh nature smells that are familiar to us.

Researchers have noticed that when we look at or enter a natural environment, majority of us starts to calm down right away in our bodies. Familiar, non-threatening natural sounds in nature or recorded will provide our nervous system messages that help us to relax. This works the same with pleasant, familiar nature smells around us.

After spending some time in nature, we notice that the thoughts do no longer race in the same circle, but they have calmed down. There is more space in our heads and more clarity. People have been found to be able to focus better after spending just 20 minutes in nature. That is the reason why it is important to get outside to look at trees and plants during the recess between classes. Especially for children and youth with ADHD the time spent in nature increases their ability to pay attention later.

Finally, being outdoors is good for our immunity. Immunity is out internal army that makes sure we stay healthy and do not get sick from outside forces. Nature helps us to become stronger as our levels of vitamin D increase when we are exposed to the healthy doses of sunlight.

Another way our immunity gets strengthened in nature is by getting in contact with the microbes that are in nature, especially in the soil. Of course, in the city you will also share the space with many people as well as their pets, so you should pay attention to not be exposed to deleterious microbes. However, e.g., touching the clean soil in the garden, running your hands through the meadow full of wildflowers, or breathing in the compounds floating around close to trees or the urban forest air, can have beneficial effects on our health to a degree that we are only starting to understand through scientific research.

This section is connected to exercise 3 Patterns in nature, and 7 Forest for rest

The reasons why we calm down in natural surroundings can be partially explained by the colour green which effects our brain in a calming way. It is the same mechanism as with the colour red, which, is why in the old bull fighting tradition they use the red cloth, which together with the waving movement can aggravate the bull to attack. Green colour has an opposite, calming effect on us. For people who do not see the colour green, this cue will be not registered, but there are other cues which make us calm down in nature. For instance, the branches of a tree form similar patterns that repeat themselves in different scales from large to small.

This rhythmic form language of nature is called fractal patterning and nature is full of examples of it: snowflake, trees branching, lightning, and ferns. Furthermore, it has been found that there is a neural mechanism in our brains that can explain why simply viewing nature make us calm down. At first glance, this physical “language” of nature seems incredibly complex, detailed and complicated to read, but actually the opposite is true. For our brain, fractals are easy to read and moreover, our brains find fractals particularly pleasant and soothing to look at.

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