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The benefits of nature for health and wellbeing

Walking through the forest, hearing the leaves rustle and the birds sing, feeling the gentle breeze on your face, and seeing the majestic trees towering above — these are sensations that can bring an immense feeling of calm. It’s no wonder that many of us flock to the outdoors when we need an emotional reset. 

Numerous scientific studies have shown that nature interacts with our brain and body to improve our overall health and wellbeing. It can reduce stress, lift our mood and help us connect with others, often positively impacting our physical health as a result.

A 2019 study by White, M.P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J. et al. found that spending at least 2 hours a week in nature improved the health and wellbeing of participants. It didn’t matter how these 2 hours of nature were achieved, only that participants got outside to reset in their version of greenspace. Humans are part of the natural world, so it makes sense that spending time outdoors and connecting with nature would make us feel good.

Today, so many outside influences try to keep us indoors — away from the therapeutic properties of nature. Escaping the modern world, life’s daily pressures, and the news cycle to enjoy nature is essential to our health and can give us the boost we need to show up in our daily lives. It can even help us cope with some of life’s most painful experiences, such as depression, grief, and loss.

Healing the mind: how nature can relieve stress and anxiety

We’ve all felt the revitalizing effects of a hike in the forest, a trip to the lake, or even walking down a leafy street on our way home. Nature heals the mind by taking us out of our thoughts and giving us a feeling of space and calm. 

Natural scenes are restorative because they capture our “soft fascination” — a term coined by Kaplan & Kaplan. Nature engages the mind, but in a different way than urban environments do. In a city, our mind is busy keeping track of moving vehicles, loud sounds, and changing traffic lights. In nature, we don’t need to think and analyze in the same way that we do in the city — nature simply draws us in and allows us to bask in the beauty and peace that it brings. Instead of being on high alert, we’re able to breathe in the fresh air and find calm. 

It’s no surprise that natural environments are proven to reduce our stress levels and blood pressure. A 2012 study by Ward Thomspon et al. found that people who had more green space in their area had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva. Additionally, they reported feeling less stressed than those who didn’t have as much access to green spaces.

Spending time in nature has also been proven to help those suffering from low mood and depression. It can serve as an antidote to the increasing number of hours we all spend in front of screens — whether that’s phones, computers, or televisions — which tends to have a negative effect on our mental health and wellbeing. For those of us working at home, a simple afternoon walk, when observed regularly, can have a huge impact on our mood and productivity. 

Healing the body: making us healthier and easing pain

Nature can help heal our bodies as well as our minds. Lower levels of stress, reduce your blood pressure and heart rate, relieve muscle tension and improve your immune system.

Nature can even help us to cope with pain. Out of a group of patients who had undergone gallbladder surgery, the half who had a view of trees out of their window were able to cope better with the pain than those who had no leafy views. In the study, patients had essentially the same room layout except only half had unobstructed views of the outdoors. The patients with views of greenspace had shorter hospital stays, took fewer pain medications, and had slightly lower complications. 

This study shows that even the proximity to adjacent greenery can have a positive effect on our bodies. Often when we find ourselves in the great outdoors, we’re undertaking some kind of exercise — whether cycling, hiking, swimming or simply walking the dog — to keep our bodies and hearts healthy. However, sitting in the grass or reading a book outside can still have positive effects on our well-being. 

Nature helps us connect, feel joy, and empathize

Nature doesn’t just have an effect on us as individuals. It helps us feel more connected to other people, experience collective joy, and empathize with others. 

A study on a group of schoolchildren living in Barcelona found that those who lived closer to green spaces and beaches got along better with one another and were more likely to show prosocial behavior — actions showing concern and empathy for one another.

This effect carries over to our wider communities. Residents in urban areas with more greenery have better neighborly relations and less violent crime.

Connecting with nature can therefore help us connect with our fellow humans.

Nature and grief

These healing and connecting qualities mean that many find solace in nature when they are grieving. The ability of natural landscapes to capture our attention, soothe intense emotions, and feel closer to others can be of great help to people who have lost someone. Nature helps many of us feel like part of an interconnected world, which can be especially comforting during the grieving process. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, as the world experienced insurmountable grief, many of us flocked to the local parks or hiking trails to find solace during the collective trauma. For over a year, a daily walk or staring out the window became our only source of freedom. 

The grieving process can be long and fraught with clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and sometimes even chronic grief. When experiencing the difficult emotions that come from grief, turning to nature can provide comfort. 

“I have spent many days walking in the forest. When you listen to the birds, the wind, the rustling of leaves, and snow falling — it’s a monumental, picturesque experience. You get a feeling that you’re a part of something bigger, which is a reason why I think this will resonate with many people.” - Better Place Forests customer, Dwight B. 

Memorial forests can help those who are grieving by providing a calming space to mourn, surrounded by the beauty of nature. Instead of visiting a cemetery in an urban environment, people have the chance to grieve while immersed in nature. 

This can be a big motivation for people to choose Better Place Forests for their end-of-life plans. They know that family and friends will have a special place where they can go to remember them, feel connected, and process their emotions. 

Visiting a loved one’s final resting place in the forest as a group or a family can also help to create a feeling of solidarity during a difficult time. As a hike or walk in the park can be a bonding experience, so can walking to your loved one’s memorial tree in the forest. 

Many friends and relatives take comfort in the fact that the person who has passed away is connected to the earth, in a beautiful, natural resting place that will always be there for loved ones and future generations to visit — in greenspace that will positively affect their health and wellbeing. 

“It’s the decision to be a part of nature and sustain our beautiful trees and forests. It’s a decision to help with reforestation and reverse climate change. And, lastly, it is my decision. My family will have peace of mind.” - Better Place Forests customer, Cathy F.

Choosing the forest as your final resting place

Many of our customers decide to have their ashes scattered at a tree in one of our forests so that they and their families can maintain a long-term connection to the planet and to one another. 

It’s also a wonderful way in which you can contribute to preserving our beautiful planet after you’re gone. As well as conserving forestland with your memorial tree, you’ll be helping to reforest America — with each memorial tree, 25-400 Impact Trees are planted in your honor in areas that have been impacted by forest fires or deforestation.

End-of-life plans are hugely personal and every person has individual needs. If you are interested in learning more about the options for a memorial tree and how it works, you can find more information here.

If you’d like to view one of our beautiful forests, an advisor will happily provide you with a free, guided online forest tour to answer any questions you may have.

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