Do you feel energised when out and about in nature? It’s no coincidence; in fact, numerous studies have found that ‘green exercise’ – or ecotherapy – produces significant health and wellness benefits.
Ecotherapy: an Introduction
With many people experiencing a mental health problem at some point, there is a strong call to find affordable, accessible and natural treatments. Governments around the world have acknowledged rising health costs and limited treatment options are a barrier to people getting the help they need.
Ecotherapy involves being outdoors and getting active to boost a person’s mental health. It’s easy, cost-effective and non-threatening for people with mental health issues.
How Ecotherapy Works
For it to work, ecotherapy needs to be embraced by communities on a local level. This could include local conservation projects, gardening groups or getting together in a wide, green space.
And it does work. Studies have found a direct link between high levels of stress and few green spaces in communities. One such study involved a group of hospital patients, whose rooms overlooked a brick wall or a tree-filled garden. Those with tree views had a shorter hospital stay, needed less medication and had a more positive outlook, compared to those with wall views.
Numerous other hospital studies have pointed to nature as a natural healer. Many institutions have installed peaceful garden settings to accelerate patients’ recovery.
Other Benefits of Ecotherapy
Ecotherapy also works wonders for a person’s wellbeing, by reducing depression, anxiety and anger and allowing them to connect with others in their community.
UK mental health group Mind has identified four key principles which describe the benefits of green exercise. They are:
1. Natural and social connections: spending time with friends, making new connections and feeling part of something
2. Sensory stimulation: being exposed to fresh air and enjoying new sights and sounds, such as bird song
3. Activity: learning a new skill and undertaking a new challenge gives people an enormous sense of self-worth and capability
4. Escape: unwinding and spending time away from the stresses of urban life affords a sense of freedom and relaxation
It’s easy to enjoy ecotherapy; simply step outside and see what nature presents you with. Even just a few minutes of ecotherapy has been shown as beneficial.
You could even start a support group in your local area and encourage others to walk along the beach, or enjoy lunch in a park. It might just be the easiest and most affordable way to shift your thinking and improve your mood.