Updated: Aug 30
Co-authored by Medical Writer Gerda Venter
Have you spent some time outdoors lately? What are your stress levels looking like at the moment? Did you know there is a direct link between the amount of time you spend outdoors and your overall mental health? After all, the very famous Albert Einstein once said, "Look deep, deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." I strongly believe he was talking about ecotherapy and this blog will explain why.
Ecotherapy, also known as Vitamin N, nature therapy or green therapy, uses nature and the outdoors to improve mental health and physical well-being. Ecotherapy can be used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, stress, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Ecotherapy can be done in many ways, depending on what works best for you. You can go for walks in nature, participate in gardening or other outdoor activities, or spend time sitting in a park or garden. There is no one right way to do ecotherapy, and you can tailor it to your needs and interests. Ecotherapy is a great way to improve your mental health and can be a lot of fun.
There are many different types of ecotherapy, each with its unique benefits. Some of the most popular forms of ecotherapy include:
- Nature-based therapies
These therapies involve spending time in nature and can be as simple as taking a walk in the park or hiking in the woods.
Gardening is a great way to get outside and connect with nature. It can also be very therapeutic, providing an opportunity to get your hands dirty and cultivate something beautiful.
- Animal-assisted therapies
These therapies involve spending time with animals and can be extremely beneficial for emotional and mental health.
- Art therapy
Art therapy is a type of therapy that uses natural art as a means of communication. It can be an incredibly powerful tool for exploring emotions and dealing with difficult life experiences.
- Wilderness therapy
Wilderness therapy is a type of ecotherapy that involves spending time in nature away from civilization. It can be an extremely beneficial experience for those struggling with mental health issues.
It is evident that spending time in nature has numerous physical and mental health benefits. Let's have a look at the ten main benefits of ecotherapy:
1. Boosts energy
If you're feeling run down and in need of a boost, ecotherapy may be just what you need. One study found that people who participated in an ecotherapy program had significantly lower levels of fatigue and higher levels of energy than those who didn't participate. Other research has shown similar results, with ecotherapy improving energy levels and reducing fatigue.
2. Lower blood pressure
Research found that people who spent time in nature had lower blood pressure than those who didn't—proving that nature's calming effect helps reduce blood pressure.
A study was done here in Canada, where patients with known high blood pressure walked five times a week for 30min. The group who walked between trees had a more significant improvement in their blood pressure, than the group who walked between houses.
If you want to lower your blood pressure, ecotherapy may be a good option. Spending time in nature can help you relax and de-stress, lowering blood pressure.
3. It's good for your eyes
The eyes are the windows to the soul, and ecotherapy can be beneficial for keeping them healthy. Ecotherapy has many benefits, one of which is that it can help improve your eyesight. Studies have shown that spending time in nature can help reduce stress and fatigue, leading to eye problems. Another study has shown that children who spend at least two hours a day outdoors are less likely to need prescription glasses than those who don’t. Additionally, ecotherapy can help improve blood circulation and reduce inflammation, which is good for your eyes.
4. Lower cortisol levels
Cortisol is a stress hormone that can adversely affect your body if it is present at high levels for extended periods. Ecotherapy has been shown to lower cortisol levels, which can help reduce stress and improve overall health.
5. Increased your serotonin levels
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an essential role in mood regulation. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and anxiety. Research has shown that ecotherapy can help to increase serotonin levels and reduce stress hormones like cortisol. Spending time in nature can help you to feel more relaxed and connected, and it can also boost your mood and improve your overall mental health.
6. Help you sleep better
Spending time in nature has been shown to have several benefits for sleep. For example, it can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can significantly contribute to insomnia. Because it also helps to increase your serotonin levels, you will experience deeper, more restful sleep. In addition, exposure to natural light during the day can help to regulate your body's circadian rhythms, making it easier to fall asleep at night. By getting enough restful sleep, you give your body the time it needs to heal and repair itself, which can help reduce inflammation.
7. Increase Vitamin D levels
Exposure to the sun is a requirement for the synthesis of adequate amounts of vitamin D by humans. Ultraviolet B from sunlight is absorbed by dehydrocholesterol in the skin which is subsequently transformed and converted to vitamin D3. Then, the liver metabolizes the vitamin into its biologically active form. One of the main benefits of ecotherapy is that it can help increase your Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is essential for good health, and it can be challenging to get enough of it from diet alone. Spending time in nature allows your body to produce vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. Ecotherapy can therefore help to improve your overall health by increasing your vitamin D levels.
If you live in an urban area, you can still get the benefits of ecotherapy by visiting green spaces and taking advantage of opportunities to be outdoors. In addition to ecotherapy (if you live in a country with long, cold winters), you can also invest in an artificial light that completely mimics the properties of natural sunlight to increase your vitamin D levels.
8. Reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression
Nature, whether you’re in the woods far away from it all, in a city park, or simply walking down a tree-lined street, has the power to make you feel new again. A simple walk in nature can reduce anxiety, keep your spirits high, and even improve memory. Even just looking at photographs of greenery for less than a minute can give you a mood boost. That is why ecotherapy is an effective treatment for anxiety and depression, with fewer side effects than medications or traditional talk therapy. Ecotherapy encourages activities such as gardening, hiking, bird watching, and interacting with animals. These activities can help reduce stress, increase feelings of happiness and connectedness, and improve overall mental health.
9. Decreased levels of inflammation
Ecotherapy can help decrease inflammation levels in your body by reducing stress. Stress is a major trigger for inflammation, so by managing stress levels through ecotherapy, you can help to keep inflammation at bay. Additionally, ecotherapy can also help to boost your immune system, which can also help to reduce inflammation. Ecotherapy is a holistic approach to managing inflammation that can help to address the underlying causes of inflammation and provide long-term relief.
10. Improve mood and self-esteem
Ecotherapy can help reduce depressive symptoms and increase self-esteem. Researchers studied a group of adults with depression in an eight-week ecotherapy program. The program included activities such as gardening, walking in nature, and art projects inspired by nature. The participants who participated in the ecotherapy program showed significant improvements in depressive symptoms and self-esteem compared to those who did not participate.
Another study found that ecotherapy can help reduce stress and improve self-esteem. The study looked at a group of adults who participated in an eight-week ecotherapy program. The program included activities such as hiking, yoga, and meditation. The participants who took part in the ecotherapy program showed significant reductions in stress levels and increases in self-esteem compared to those who did not participate in the program.
So, what can you do if you cannot access nature daily?
Increase your exposure to nature by adding houseplants to your home. Indoor plants have been shown to reduce stress levels, sharpen your attention, improve your mood and help to recover from illness faster. They also help to purify and freshen the air you breathe.
The benefits of ecotherapy are vast, and we've only scratched the surface. Ecotherapy is a safe and accessible treatment option with few side effects. From reducing stress levels to improving mental health, spending time outdoors has something to offer everyone. What do you like to do outdoors? Let me know in the comments below – I'd love to hear from you!
Learn more about the health benefits of nature on YouTube.
Brown, K. W., and Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 84, 822–848. doi: 10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1682
Du H, King RB, Chi P (2017) Self-esteem and subjective well-being revisited: The roles of personal, relational, and collective self-esteem. PLoS ONE 12(8): e0183958. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183958
Summers James K., Vivian Deborah N.(2018). Ecotherapy – A Forgotten Ecosystem Service: A Review. Frontiers in Psychology. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01389