Immersing oneself in nature has positive effects on people. People like to be exposed to nature environment, though they are living in a world that is urbanized and dominated by man-made environments piece by piece. People have an innate and evolutionarily based affinity for nature (Wilson, 1984). Wilson (1984) described this affinity as ‘a love of nature, an attention to nature, and a feeling of connection to nature’. People are used to immerse in natural environments though they have less chance of contacting with nature nowadays. In recent years, numerous studies have shown that people could get benefit from the interaction with nature. Richard Ryan (2010), lead author and a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, says “One of the pathways to health may be to spend more time in natural things”. Many people prefer to flock to parks and natural areas for enjoying their vocations and the number of people seeking natural views for relaxation is increasing (Freimund and Cole, 2001). In this literature review, the findings of the important functions of nature for physical health and mental health are talked about.
This paper is divided into four sections to finish this literature review. In the first section, the positive effects of nature on the physical health show in this part. Section two focuses on the positive effects of nature on the mental health of people. The last section relates to the conclusion of the whole paper.
The positive effects of nature on the physical health of people
People often feel more alive when they are outside in nature. Being in natural environments, whether walking in woods or sitting in an urban garden with pets has many physiological effects. Natural settings such as parks and gardens provide spaces for people to do beneficial physical activity (Nieman, 2003). So drug rehabilitation centres, prisons and hospitals can use this method to help the patients recover. Rothert (2007) states the benefit to physical health in nature including “the lifting and reaching motions of gardening can strengthen weak muscles and increase limited joint flexibility ranges. Physical stamina and skills such as balance and coordination can be improved”. Studies also stated that if people take daily exercise in natural environments like gardens could decrease the probability to suffer from dementia (Simons et al., 2006). Woods or gardens in urban environment just like natural gymnasiums and provide fresher air and pleased views for urban people. Whether in parks or gardens, people have the opportunity to become refreshed. Exercising in nature is available for people from any age group, and gives people the chance to strength physical health by seeing green plants or smelling the smell of nature.
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Relaxation in natural settings provided by parks, gardens or house plants is more and more popular because people become dominated by indoor activities. Researchers reported that workers who were close to natural views had fewer illnesses and headaches (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989 ). Nature could be looked as a therapy which has no side effects. For people working in office, indoor plants can improve the air quality of office and improve the productivity in office environment (Randall et al., 1992).
More and more hospitals have taken the healing effects of a natural view seriously. A study evaluating the recovery rates of patients who sustained gall bladder surgery found that those who often had a natural view recovered faster, had better relationship with nurses, used fewer painkillers and spent less time in hospital than those that just viewed urban scene (Ulrich, 1984). Study conducted in prison shows that if a prisoner has nature view from the cell window he will have fewer chance to suffer from digestive illnesses and headaches, and call for prison doctors (Moore, 1981).
The positive effects of nature on the mental health of people
Most people know the benefits from sports and relaxation in nature, but the mental health and well-being benefits appear from the contact with nature are little cared about. People often choose to take a walk in natural scenes when they deal with stress, hesitation, or anxiety. Studies found contemplating nature can strengthen the activities of the brain and harmonize the functions of the brain overall (Furnass, 1979). This is the technical explanation of the answer that people like taking a walk when they want their brains clear. Living in cities always means facing many environmental problems, such as noise, crowds, and pollution. All these problems can cause negative affects on people. But the natural settings have the opposite effect. It has been demonstrated that the natural environments have a restorative quality for people who live in urban environments. Martin (1996) insisted that taking a recreation in a park with trees or flowers could make people have a clear understanding of the relationship with nature and then affected the lives and preferences of people.
University of Michigan professors Rachel Kaplan and her husband professor Stephen Kaplan believe nature has effect on human mental health and they have spent decades proving it (Lofy, 2006). They and the students who have worked with them have also found that cancer patients who spent 20 minutes a day, three days a week either gardening or walking in the woods could improve their mental health to a great extent. The Kaplans (1989) also found that people who were close to nature settings were healthier than other individuals. The longer-term impact of nature could give rise to the satisfaction with their families and jobs. According to the recent study conducted in UK (Vineet, 2010), researchers found that more than 75% of people have mental health problems because they live in urban areas and have the detachment with nature. From a survey in the USA, researchers found that about 45% of survey respondents thought wildness was extremely important for spiritual inspiration, and the other 56% stated that they known natural settings were very important in life (Cordell et al., 1998). For people who work in windowless office, looking the nature settings out of the windows is a good way to relieve stress and increase happiness (Leather et al, 1998). Workers who could see trees and flowers often felt that their jobs were less stressful and they were much more satisfied with jobs than others who could just see artificial settings (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989).
Rohde and Kendle (1994) found that when people immersed in nature they were inclined to have feelings of pleasure, easiness, concentration and interest instead of feeling negative emotions, such as angry, anxiety, and absentmindedness. Ulrich and colleagues (Ulrich et al, 1991) studies the different reactions from people who had just watched a stressful film when they were in natural and urban scenes. After measuring a series of physiological measure, such as heart rates, muscle tension and skin conductance et al, they found that subjects who were in natural scene recovered faster than those in urban scene. Ulrich (1979) found seeing natural views have positive effects on psychological state, especially on mood affect. He found that participants seeing common natural senses had an increase in positive mood affect, but the opposed people shown an increase in negative mood affect. Studies also prove that contacting with nature can improve the cognitive function of people at zero cost (Berman, et al., 2008). Cimprich and Ronis (2004) proved the hypothesis that contacting with natural environments could improve attention and memory. Some researcher (1992) found that parks and gardens were regarded as relaxing and quiet places which could improve positive mood state for people. Wells (2000) also found that green areas around houses could impact the cognitive functioning. Higher levels of green areas leaded higher cognitive functioning. Wells and Evans (2003) further demonstrated that life stress was lower among children with high level of nature than those living in areas with little nature.
Driving is known to be a stressful thing, and often lead to physiological reaction in the body of drivers. Parson and colleagues (Parson et al., 1998) separated drivers into four scenes to measure stress recovery and immunization. The four scenes are drives in forest scenery, drives along golf courses, drives in urban scenery, and drives in mixed roadside scenery. They founded those participants who finished test in the nature-dominated scenery represented quicker recovery from stress and greater immunization to subsequent stress than those were in artifact-dominated scenery.
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Natural views can also useful for better performance in attention demanding tasks (Temmessen and Cimprich, 1995). Temmessen and Cimprich divided university students into two groups, the group one with natural view and the group with non-natural view. They gave both the two groups test papers and compared the scores of them. The researchers found that the group with natural view got higher scores than the group two. Allowing people to immerse in nature in work time can reduce tension and improve competence and productivity.
Researchers have stated that the major factors of health possibly have little relation with the health care system (Hancock, 1999) and people should pay more attention on the natural and social environments. Lewis (1996) takes the opinion that social contact within nature in parks and gardens is in favour of increasing community cohesion, and positive attitudes of people. Frantz (2005) and colleagues found that non- nature environment may have a negative effect on people which was called as isolating and self-alienating effect. Kaplan (2001) stated that apartment residents usually had enganced feeling of happiness and higher neighborhoods satisfaction when they could see much more natural views than artificial settings from their windows. By comparing neighbourhoods with trees or flowers close by to those without natural settings, researcher found people living in greener places presented lower levels of fear, less rude and violent behaviour and fewer crime events (Kuo and Sullivan, 2001). Kearney (2006) also enhanced this point by finding that seeing natural views could not only increase residents’ neighborhoods satisfaction but also increase density living. For example, residents could accept to live in highrise living due to they could have a rich view of natural settings.
Evidence shown in above paragraphs has demonstrated that many aspects of human mental health can be improved by viewing nature. Viewing natural environment is positive for mental health, particularly in recovering from stress, enhancing the feeling of well-being, improving the satisfaction of families and jobs, improving psychological state, and improving concentration. From all these evidence, it is obvious that being available to natural settings in urban environments is necessary for people.
In the past few hundred years, there has been an exceeding distant between human and the natural environment (Beck and Katcher, 1996). Studies refer to the relationship between human and natural settings have shown the evidence of the human health benefits by contacting with nature. Though we can not reside in grasslands or forests, we should walk out and spend more time in parks or just flower gardens. Natural plays an important part in human health, and parks or other natural settings give people the opportunity to get close with nature. It is safe to say that the ‘collaboration’ between health promotion agencies and nature would be a good choice for human health. Whatever individual or community should take advantage of the natural gift from nature in term of human health.
Further research should collect more powerful evidence to demonstrate the physical and mental health benefits of being close with nature. Besides, people should develop more opportunities to apply the benefits of contact with nature and then solve more existing and emerging health problems.
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