Numerous studies have revealed the positive effects that nature and the surrounding environment can have on mental and physical well-being. And now, new research published by the University of Tokyo suggests the benefits of spending time in nature extend much further than previously believed.
Study co-author Alexandros Gasparatos, PhD, associate professor of sustainability science at the Institute for Future Initiatives (IFI) at the University of Tokyo, said that connecting with nature provides opportunities for recreation and leisure, spiritual fulfillment, personal development, social relations, and aesthetic experiences.
According to Gasparatos, previous studies had already highlighted some of the mechanisms, but the new research has identified 10 more. These include:
Cohesive: The development of meaningful human relationships through interactions with nature.
Formative: When elements such as mood, attitude, behaviors, and values change instantly or over a short duration, following interaction with nature.
Satisfactive: Feeling that your expectations and needs are satisfied through interactions with nature.
Transcendent: Obtaining benefits related to religious or spiritual values after interacting with nature.
“Although the findings are not necessarily surprising — at least to experts in our field — our study provides the first comprehensive effort to systematize them,” Gasparatos said. “In this sense, it provides a cohesive information base and conceptual framework of how these linkages occur.”
When it comes to connecting with nature and the environment, these mechanisms can be stimulated in various ways. For instance, a gentle stroll in the forest, helping out with a beach clean-up, exploring a new city, or foraging for berries are all activities that stimulate a sense of connection.
The researchers also noted that a crossover of mechanisms may occur, further enhancing their impact. For instance, caring for nature with a nature-based recreation activity, such as gardening, would encompass both cognitive and evolutive mechanisms.