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Bratman Describes Science of Nature’s Effects on Psychological Health

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November 26, 2018
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NCCIH Blog Team

Contact with nature—whether outdoors or indoors (e.g., from plants or window views)—is an emerging field of research showing potential to help address some important public-health problems, said Gregory Bratman, Ph.D., in a recent lecture at NIH.

His talk, “Nature Contact and Human Health: A Multimethod Approach,” was part of NCCIH’s Integrative Medicine Research Lecture Series and reflects the Center’s research interest in emotional well-being as an aspect of health promotion and disease prevention. The archived lecture is now available to view online.

Dr. Bratman is an assistant professor and the Doug Walker Endowed Professor at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington.

The state of the evidence on nature experience (also called nature contact or nature exposure) shows promise as a therapeutic or preventive approach for a range of psychological and physical health challenges, he noted. Those benefits are in three interrelated domains—mental health, physical health, and general subjective well-being—with the amount and strength of evidence varying by topic. With several colleagues, he has developed and published a proposed research agenda for the field of nature contact and human health.

Dr. Bratman has introduced rumination as a possible causal mechanism for some nature experience benefits. In rumination, people repetitively think about negative aspects of themselves; this is associated with negative mood and a higher risk of depression and other psychological illnesses for some people. Some of his exploratory research has found decreases in self-reported rumination after nature walks.

“We can say with some degree of certainty that in many cases nature experience benefits mood and cognitive function for urbanites and likely emotion regulation as well, although that’s less studied,” he said. “This field is new, and there’s a lot of work to be done. [In applying the knowledge we gain], we can recognize our natural systems as vital assets, account for the roles they play in supporting human psychological well-being, and routinely incorporate these values in the decision-making process as we consider how to bring people to nature, and nature to people.”

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Is this really a very new issue? In the classical INDIAN SYSTEM OF MEDICINE the AAYURVEDA refers this subject in great details. And this I know even though by profession I am not a doctor! AAYURVEDA gives importance to AAHAR and VIHAR. AAHAR is collectively what one eats and drinks and how does one do it. VIHAR is one’s total behavioural pattern including one’s contact with nature and one’s mental condition. In some cases living close to nature gives unimaginable results! 

Check out Finnish lifestyle because as I understand it, Finns try to spend 2 hours outside every day year round.

Green contact promotes Mindfulness practice, akin to mystical meditation and sacred contemplation, and has its own spectrum of benefits.

Greetings, I am a doctoral student working on a doctoral research project that examines the effects of spending time in nature as a treatment plan for chronic illnesses.  I enjoyed Dr. Bratman’s presentation and his comment regarding how not everyone recognizes nature as an innate resource for our mental health.  It was a good reminder of why we need to continue our research for both public health reasons as well as stewardship for the planet.I am a licensed nurse practitioner in New Mexico and I would welcome any additional resources and information about current research projects examining the physiological effects of nature and health and wellness.Kim Allen, FNP-BC, CEN  

@Kim Allen  While we could only identify one currently funded study on health and nature “Urban Greenness and  Cardiovascular Health,” you may want to periodically check the NIH Reporter database at https://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm for newly funded research on the effects of nature and health. The NIH RePORTER is an online database of federally funded research projects which includes descriptions of projects and published research results.

I enjoyed Dr. Bratman’s article and thought it will spark further interest in this subject. I am a former psychiatric nurse and often escorted my patients on nature walks and saw first hand the benefits of such outings. Thank you.

I forgot to add in my previous comment that unlike the modern(?) medicine, AAYURVEDA does not treat body and mind as two separate entities ! Instead, body and mind, both are treated as one unit. As aptly stated in the concluding remark by Dr. Bratman, “it is very much necessary to bring people to nature and nature to people” ! In the name of modernization we have gone miles away from nature and hence suffering the consequences !

Nature first

I agree with the poster about Ayurvedic practice and, as a Western-trained psychiatrist with a strong penchant for Eastern medicine and homeopathy and being from an Eastern background myself, Uday is absolutely correct.These “findings” are what Indian (Ayurveda), Japanese (e.g., forest bathing), Persian, Chinese, Native American, Greek, and other non-European traditions have known and practiced for centuries in some cases, if not millennia.I certainly appreciate scientific research and all of its contributions, but to “tell the full story”, one needs to look at the history books and what these civilizations still practice in the modern era. The fact is that scientific knowledge and modes of healing did not start in the 1700s in Europe. The “Dark Ages” were not dark everywhere.

In ancient INDIA the sages and the gurus used tostay in jungles where they used to run their schools and deciples from all over the country used to come to them. The  deciples were supposed to stay with the gurus till their eduction finishes. Also some sages usedto go on retreat. The best place for such retreats was considered to be jungles again ! In short being with the nature was an essential part of the culture ! We must take and learn a lesson from this I suppose. 

Hola, Artículo muy interesante. Soy de España, y aquí están surgiendo proyectos en los que también se fomenta la atención plena. Hay bastantes, pero uno de los que más me gusta es práctico y te ayuda en tu vida diaria. Dije, buen artículo. Debemos seguir fomentando la atención plena.

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Thak you very much AMIR !The contact with nature was until very recent past used to be family function celebrated every year. The entire family used to go to nearby jungle, be there for a day or two. And then return home refreshed ! A seventeen hundred saint, very famous even to-day, named SAINT TUKARAM from MAHARASHTRA, has written a small poem describing the importance of nature. He says, “All living creatures of entire “animal kingdom and plant kingdom” are our family members ! And must be honoured and treated accordingly !When the so called modern enlightened Europeans came to INDIA, to their surprise they found INDIANS offering POOJA to animals and plants being treated secredly ! They thought of it as foolishness ! But now in 21st century in the name of ECO-FRIENDLYNESS and CONSERVATION of ENVIRONMENT we are now trying to stop cutting of trees and killing beasts like tigers, snakes, and so on ! Why ? The modern man has understood fully well their importance to-day ! But the so called PRIMITIVE cultures of ASIA and AFRICA had learned it since THE DAY long long ago ! Cutting of trees and Hunting even the wild animals was considered as a great SIN ! Understanding the mass-psychology, the plants and wild animals were offered POOJA along with a deity ! Please tell me now, who were LEARNED ? Asians and Africans or Eropeans ? WHO IS REINVENTING THE WHEEL ? Why the so called modern society is facing the problem of GLOBAL WARMING and POLLUTION ? Better let us not fight ! Understand the importance of nature and its roll for the betterment of we the HUMAN RACE, in the real sense let us go to the MOTHER NATURE, BE WITH HER and live happy and prosporus future ! NEVER THINKING EVEN IN OUR DREAMS TO CONQUER HER ! WE WILL CONSERVE OUR FUTURE ONLY IF WE CONSERVE MOTHER NATURE ! 

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