Nature heals. Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality, according to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell.
I was able to retreat to the Colorado Rockies recently after leading a dementia training in the Denver area. The further I drove from the city traffic the more relaxed I became, as the mountains surrounded me and hustle and bustle subsided with each mile closer to my destination.
Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.
I’m excited to see that more care communities are integrating raised beds, gardening activities, serene courtyards and interspersing scenes of nature in their decor. Not only is it helping residents but care partners also are benefiting from the restorative power of nature.
According to research by the University of Minnesota, we are genetically programmed to find tress, plants, water and other nature elements engrossing, thus we are absorbed by nature scenes and distracted from our pain and discomfort.
This was demonstrated in a classic study of patients who underwent gallbladder surgery; half had a view of tress and half had a view of a wall. According to the physician who conducted the study, Robert Ulrich, the patients with the view of trees tolerated pain better, appeared to nurses to have fewer negative effects, and spent less time in a hospital.
In another study in Mind, 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to more calm and balanced. Other studies by Ulrich, Kim and Cervinka show that time in nature or scenes of nature are associated with positive mood, psychological well being, meaningfulness and vitality.
With a mission to transform aging for our elders and those caring for them, we are constantly seeking tools that will enhance lives. To know that a simple plant can have such healing effects is truly amazing and should be an inspiration for all of us to take steps to integrate nature into our daily lives.
We don’t all have access to the mountains, but a garden stroll with an elder can change one’s mood, reduce stress, pain and enhance engagement. It is an activity that can be shared with families and other care partners. It’s simple person-centered care at its best.