Your living and working environments impact your overall health. One relatively simple way to improve your health is by improving your daily environments. This article brings to life the purposeful and practical use of “nature contact” in your home and office to nurture better mental and physical health. Nature contact can be added by brining outdoor elements indoors.
Bringing nature inside for health is both intuitive and scientific. Vacation destinations, real estate costs, and office windows suggest that people value ”a room with a view” and will pay more for it. Researchers in many fields including biology, psychology, public health and medicine, education, and design-related fields, have studied “ordinary” nature contact (e.g., an indoor plant and view from the window). The results across these studies show that ordinary nature contact was associated with health and wellbeing.
Nature Contact Health Benefits:
- Less Stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Quicker recovery from illness
- Improved concentration
- Happier (positive affect)
One of the first studies on indoor nature contact and health was published in Science in 1984 and entitled “View Through a Window May Influence Recovery from Surgery.” Medical charts of patients who underwent the same surgical procedure in a Midwest hospital were reviewed over a period of 9 years. Results indicated that patients in a room with a window view of trees and a forested area had significantly shorter hospital stay, less use of pain medication, and better evaluations from nurses than patients in a room across the hallway with a window view of a brick wall. There were no other differences in hospital room design and patients were randomly assigned to a room (Ulrich, 1984). There have been many studies in various settings (home, work, prison, school) among many populations (adults, patients, employees, children) that mirror these findings. In a nutshell, a view outdoors is healthful and the more “natural” or “green” the view, the better.
Photos and Sounds
Researchers at John Hopkins University examined the impact of nature contact photos and sounds during a bronchoscopy procedure. Patients undergoing the diagnostic procedure were randomized into a nature contact group or a control group. The nature contact group was exposed to a bedside curtain with a large nature scene printed on it and listened to a tape of recorded nature sounds of a flowing stream or birds chirping through headphones during the procedure. The control group was not exposed to this nature contact intervention. The nature contact group showed a decrease in overall anxiety and a 43% increase in reported pain control compared to the control group (Diette et al., 2003). Other studies also show similar results – decorating with nature photography/art and listening to natural sounds is one simply way to improve the health of your home and office.
Plants, View, Sunlight, Photos, Sounds, Outdoor Breaks
Recently, my colleagues and I conducted a study to examine the relationship between office environments and employee stress and health. We created a checklist to measure the following forms of workplace nature contact among 503 employees: window view, natural light, fish tanks, live or artificial plants, listening to recording nature sounds, nature photography or art, and outdoor breaks or lunch. Our results show that employees with more nature contact throughout the day in their office had significantly lower stress levels and health complaints than those with less natural elements in their workspace (Largo-Wight et al., 2011). There are many ways to improve your environment for health – do what works best for you and your family!
Why is Nature Contact Healthy?
The biophilia hypothesis was formally established by world renowned biologist, E.O. Wilson, and based on human evolution. The biophilia hypothesis contends that natural elements are calming for people today because of the linkage to survival in the past (Wilson, 1984). Psychologists have also studied the brain and stress response after exposure to natural elements and propose that environments with natural elements appear to boost effective coping and restoration (e.g., Kaplan, 1995). Creating “biologically-familiar” environments by adding “nature contact” may promote health, reduce stress, and boost coping.
What You Can Do!
Incorporate nature contact inside to make your home and office healthier. Here are some strategies that might work for you:
- Add indoor potted plants–the more the better
- Incorporate natural, direct sunlight
- Plan for a view outside, even if your view is not optimal—open blinds, move any obstruction, position your seat
- Cultivate your view outside – think about landscaping outdoor area for indoor viewing
- Add nature photographs & paintings
- Get a fish tank or pet
- Air out—open the windows, weather permitting
- Listen to nature– open the window or listen to recorded nature sounds
- Get out—take a health “booster break” outdoors
- Advocate for your community– parks & green spaces enhance health for all
To Learn More
Designing and Building Healthy Places, Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Available: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/
Frumkin, H. (2001). Beyond toxicity: Human health and the natural environment. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 20:234-240. Abstract available: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11275453
Largo-Wight, E. (2011). Cultivating healthy places and communities: Evidenced-based nature contact recommendations. International Journal of Environmental Health Research, 21(1), 41-61. Abstract available: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21246432
Largo-Wight, E., Chen, W., Dodd, V., & Weiler, R. (2011). Healthy workplaces: The role of nature contact office exposures on employee stress and health. Public Health Reports, 126 (3), 1-13. Available: http://www.publichealthreports.org/issueopen.cfm?articleID=2653