Research Shows Link Between “Green” and Positive Mental Health
By Tracey Block
Research has long proven the positive mental and physical effects of adding green to our lives. Yet, it seems we need to be reminded of it every now and then.
Whether we are bringing the green inside with plants and flowers in home or office–or making a physical connection to the green outdoors by gardening or otherwise engaging with nature—the affirmative effects on our psyches are boundless.
Brian Minter, gardening columnist for Canada’s Vancouver Sun newspaper, sees the influence of greenery worthy of a new year’s resolution. “As we’re about to enter a new year, it’s a great time to consider a few ways of adding greater value to our lives. Engaging the world of plants will improve our sense of well-being, happiness and health,” he wrote in last week’s column.
A 2016 report by the World Health Organization called Urban Green Spaces and Health cites early exposure to greenery as an important support to children’s overall mental health Minter explained. “Increasing children’s exposure to green spaces influenced their cognitive ability in a positive way, improved their social inclusiveness and behaviour and lowered the risk of ADHD.”
Minter referred to biophilia, a term meaning a “connection to plants and nature”, recently conceived by Arizona State University’s (ASU) adjunct faculty members Sonja Bochart and Joe Zazzera. Encouraging an interaction with nature and greenery “by bringing the outdoors inside is the latest trend in interiorscapes,” he added. “Using water, living walls, larger indoor plants, and other natural elements boost people’s mood, productivity and health.”
In his article for the university’s publication, ASU Now, writer Scott Seckel explained Bochart’s perspective. “Bochart called biophilia a balance between art and science, and it’s something science has plenty of evidence to support,” Seckel wrote. “Views of nature . . . lower blood pressure and heart rate. Morning sun reduces hospital stays of bipolar patients 26 to 30 percent.”
Bochart’s colleague, Joe Zazzera, cautioned that biophilic design is “not just bringing plants indoors”. Instead, it encourages an overlap between the worlds of nature and humans. “Hopefully, in the future there won’t be a difference,” Zazzera said. “Corporations are waking up to this.” In an increasing technical world where crowded spaces, concrete structures and computer chips ever make up a larger part of our collective existence, the role of simple nature in positive mental health outcomes will only be increase over time.
In an October article for PsychCentral.com, writer Traci Pedersen discussed an analysis from the journal Open Agriculture. Based on the affirmative emotional influence plants have on people’s mental health, University of Florida researchers believe greenery may work to boost the mental wellness of “space crews”.
“Long periods of space travel can lead to sleep problems, reduced energy, inattentiveness, difficulty in problem-solving, and even memory loss,” Pedersen wrote. “It can also increase hostility, impulsivity and, despite the danger and excitement, it can be quite boring.”
Based on their literary review of “plant-people interactions”, Pedersen explained, the university researchers determined that the benefits of plants to humans on Earth are equally applicable to astronauts in outer space. Their conclusions, Pedersen added, suggest that “plants can help reduce both social and cognitive problems related to space travel, and . . . should be part of the design of future space missions for both nutritional and psychological reasons”.
While most of us spend our working hours with feet planted firmly on the Earth, even a subtle change in our access to a greenspace gives a notable lift to our moods. Too many offices provide workers with concrete walls and lifeless dividers to look at 6-8 hours each day. But the opportunity to look out a window onto a greenspace can be a gamechanger.
Rebecca Clay, in an article for the American Psychological Association, described the stunning change of perspective University of Michigan psychologist Rachel Kaplan, Ph.D., experienced when, after 17 years she moved into a university office that provided a “tree-top view” instead of the “barren” courtyard wall she had looked onto for so long.
For many years, Kaplan and her husband studied the effects of greenery on human psyches, but her own experience provided first-hand evidence that their conclusion is correct: “Green is good for you”.
According to Clay, the Kaplans’ research encompasses an area they describe as restorative environments. With other psychologists, they examine “nature’s impact on people’s mental functioning, social relationships and even physical well-being,” she wrote. “Others are putting that research into practice by working with interior designers, architects and city planners to create psychologically healthy buildings and cities.”
Kaplan’s change of work venue underscored what a lot of people encounter every day. “My previous office was harder on me than I realized,” she said. “I have to admit I was more convinced of my own work after I changed offices. I realized that all of our results were right.”
Clay explained that from the research Kaplan and her husband had done, as well as from her own encounters–Kaplan concluded that the “restorative effects” of nature do not have to be sought out with daily hikes in the woods. “Even a glimpse of nature from a window helps,” Kaplan explained.
In one recognized experiment, continued Clay, “Rachel Kaplan found that office workers with a view of nature liked their jobs more, enjoyed better health and reported greater life satisfaction.”
Clay, R.A., (April 2001). American Psychological Association. Green is good for you. http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr01/greengood.aspx
Minter, B., (December 29, 2017). Vancouver Sun. Improve your health, well-being and happiness with plants. http://vancouversun.com/homes/gardening/brian-minter-improve-your-health-well-being-and-happiness-with-plants
Pedersen, T., (October 20, 2017). PsychCentral.com. Plants May Help Maintain Mental Health of Astronauts. https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/10/20/plants-may-help-maintain-mental-health-of-astronauts/127703.html
Seckel, S., (February 2, 2017). ASU Now. ASU adjunct faculty says bringing nature into design has physical, mental health benefits. https://asunow.asu.edu/20170202-solutions-biophilic-design-doesnt-just-look-good-–%C2%A0it-makes-us-feel-good-too
Waters, E., (March 6, 2017). PsychCentral.com. Top 6 Bedroom Plants that Promote Better Sleep. https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2017/03/06/top-6-bedroom-plants-that-promote-better-sleep/
Seasonal Affective Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.theravive.com/therapedia/seasonal-affective-disorder.