Want a Better Sense of Wellbeing? Head to the Outdoors?

The simplest path to a greater sense of wellbeing may be found in your nearest park. Researchers at King’s College in London found that exposure to trees, hearing birdsong, seeing the sky, and otherwise feeling in contact with nature were associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing. The researchers also noted that the benefits of nature exposure were especially noticeable in individuals who are at greater risk of mental health issues, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and addiction disorders. These conditions are associated with higher levels of “trait impulsivity,” a psychological measure of your tendency to behave with little consideration of the consequences and a predictor of higher risk of developing certain mental health challenges. To determine how contact with nature affects mental wellbeing, the researchers developed a smartphone-based app called Urban Mind.

More than 100 individuals in London used the app during a one-week period. In all, researchers collected more than 3,000 assessments from the study participants. For each assessment, the individual was asked a few questions about his or her location and momentary mental wellbeing. In particular, trees, sky and birdsong were associated with significant positive wellbeing assessments. The connection between nature and a positive outlook has been demonstrated in numerous studies. Time spent outdoors in a tranquil setting may help reduce stress, encourage you to be more physically active, and be more mindful of your surroundings. Not only are the researchers hopeful that their findings will encourage more people to boost their mood through contact with nature, but they say this kind of information should be used by urban planners to design neighborhoods that include more parks and open spaces. The researchers also note that the study is a positive example of how smartphone technology can be used to facilitate citizen science—a partnership between researchers and participants in real-world environments.

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