2020 and the first months of 2021 were a period of claustrophobic isolation, closure and psychological and physical suffering. In response, over the last year and a half many people – confined within the four walls of their homes – have re-evaluated the importance of doing exercise outdoors and having contact with nature. Indeed, since well before the pandemic, scholars and scientists have been unanimous in recognising the benefits of these practices: it is enough to spend even a few hours a week surrounded by clean air and a green environment to improve cognitive performance, lower stress and increase your level of physical wellbeing.
In Japan, since the 1980s there has been a practice known as shinrin-yoku, translated in English as forest bathing, which simply means to take a walk in a forest. A study named The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku: evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan divided a heterogenous sample into two groups, with the first group going for a walk among the trees, the second in an urban environment.
The people who walked in the natural setting saw an improvement in their blood pressure levels and better nerve stimulation. As later demonstrated by the study The effect of cognitive behavior therapy-based psychotherapy applied in a forest environment, forest bathing reduces stress, helps with depression cases and makes people who practice it less hostile.
Uniting the benefits of a natural environment with physical exercise is an excellent way to regain your level of wellbeing and general psycho-physical balance. A walk, a run, or even better a cycle ride in a natural setting two or three times a week are the perfect solution. Riding a bicycle, in particular, can bring you a wide range of benefits, both in physical terms – especially cardiovascular and musculoskeletal – and psychologically, with the production of endorphins that are responsible for improving your mood. Not forgetting the positive impact it has on the environment: bicycles are a symbol of smart mobility and zero emissions.
Here too, there have been many studies that link tie physical activity and contact with nature to psycho-physical well-being. The study Regular doses of nature: the efficacy of green exercise interventions for mental wellbeing, published in 2020, subjected participants to cycles of motor activity in a green environment. It concluded that green exercise can play a fundamental role in facilitating wellbeing and could constitute an important alternative to traditional health-social practices. Public health systems, the research reads, should consider integrating interventions of this type in patients with a low level of wellbeing.
Last year again, WWF published a guide that listed the benefits of contact with nature for children (but which are valid for essentially any age). From self-discipline to the reduction of depressive disorders and anxiety and the prevention of cardio-respiratory, metabolic and tumor pathologies, here too there is a wide range of benefits reported. Furthermore, citing the study Residential green space and child intelligence and behaviour across urban, suburban, and rural areas in Belgium, the prestigious organisation stressed that intelligence is also influenced by time spent living in a green environment.
In fact, according to the research an increase of just 3% of green in the neighborhood where someone grows up corresponds to an average growth of 2.6 IQ points for children aged 10 to 15 years (the examined sample group). A psychological, physical and cognitive balance: contact with nature and physical activity outdoors are the best way to achieve wellbeing.