Health & Spirit

Nature boosts your mental health, and you don't even have to leave the city to reap the benefits

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

Good news, urbanites! New research suggests that you don't have to leave the city to reap some of the benefits of being in nature.

Simply listening to the chirping of birds, glimpsing the sky and even noticing a scrawny city tree can boost your mental well-being, according to a report published Tuesday in the journal Bioscience.

To come to this conclusion, the researchers used data collected by a smartphone app they created called Urban Mind. The app is free to download and available for both the iPhone and Android platforms.

Seven times a day for seven days, self-selected volunteers answered questions such as, "Are you indoors or outdoors?" "Can you see trees?" "Can you see the sky? " "Can you hear birds singing?" "Can you see or hear water?" and "Do you feel in contact with nature?"

At the same time, they were asked to log their overall emotional well-being.

Before using the app, volunteers were asked to submit basic demographic information including age, gender, education and occupation.

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In addition, their mental well-being was assessed, as was their trait impulsivity, which is a measure of a person's propensity to behave with little forethought or consideration of consequences. People who have higher trait impulsivity are more likely to develop mental health issues such as addiction, ADHD and bipolar disorder, the authors said.

For this study, which was part of a pilot program, the researchers relied primarily on 3,013 assessments from 108 participants.

The authors found that people were more likely to report higher states of well-being when they were outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birds singing, seeing the sky, and feeling in contact with nature. Hearing and seeing water, however, did not have much of an effect.

The positive effects on well-being of seeing trees and seeing the sky also appeared to carry over to the next time the app asked for input, usually about 2 hours and 25 minutes later.


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