How Connecting With Nature Can Improve Our Happiness and Wellbeing

01/09/2016 13:27 | Updated 01 September 2016

We're all searching for it, that wonder elixir of life that will keep us youthful and healthy until our dying days.

We know the drill -eat the right things, exercise, get enough sleep, EVERYTHING IN MODERATION. And whilst all of these things will hopefully help us to live longer, it seems to me that with all these self imposed rules and regulations, we forget to give ourselves time to do what we find enjoyable.

Studies have found that individuals that spent more time engaging in enjoyable activities have greater overall psychological and physical wellbeing. This included greater experience of positive emotion.

The Nature Effect

This is particularly true when it comes to activities that involve the natural world.

More and more research is being done into the connection between 'nature relatedness' and our happiness with results suggesting that those who are more connected to nature tended to experience more positive affect, vitality, and life.

So when we combine these two things- nature plus an activity we enjoy, it seems that we are maximising benefits to our mental and physical health.

So if you want to give your brain and body a boost, how about trying out some of these healthy hobbies?

Dog Walking
photo credit: To shake or not to shake... via photopin (license)

Feeling rough? (Sorry had to be done)

Combining exercise, the outdoors and connection to nature, dog walking is probably one of the most accessible activities that can give you a triple whammy of positive health benefits.

Studies have found that regular interaction with our canine companions reduces stress, and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol.

Even if you don't have a dog yourself, borrow someone else's or sign up to one of several websites which now allow you to borrow dogs in your local area for walks or just a bit of company.

photo credit: tre-aetsa-2015-8 via photopin (license)

It's accessible to most of us. It's practical for a lot of us. Watching the countryside whizz past on your bike may also be very good for your mental wellbeing and focus.

According to neuroscientist Brian Christie, 45 minutes of exercise in the morning ensures that your brain is at peak performance for the first few hours of your working day. Alongside performance benefits, cycling can also elevate your mood, relieve anxiety and increase stress resistance.

From a personal point of view I know how energised getting out into the fresh air at 8am and cycling to work makes you feel. The necessity of being aware of your route and other traffic wakes your brain up in a way that getting on a train or jumping in a car just doesn't achieve. Add to that the exercise benefits of an hour workout every day, and it's not difficult to see why cycling is becoming one of the UK's fastest growing hobbies.

Horse Riding
photo credit: Autumn ride via photopin (license)

Another activity that connects us with nature, humans have enjoyed riding our furry eared friends since ancient times. It's been shown to promote many health benefits developing core strength, balance and coordination.

Connecting with another living creature provides companionship combating loneliness, and allows us time for ourselves away from the stresses of our daily lives.

Riding a horse well requires continuously learning and developing new skills which has been shown to decrease onset of dementia and reduce memory loss.

It may not be something that many of us are able to do often (unless you are lucky enough to live near mountains), but skiing has been found to be one of the best activities for promoting positive health benefits.

It ticks the endorphin producing exercise box and connects you with nature and the outdoors. But doesn't snowboarding do this too? According to a study carried out by Yonsei University participants who took part in skiing reported the highest levels of happiness compared to snowboarders and those who took part in both activities. Take that snowboarders!

Swimming With Dolphins

photo credit: _BRK6652 Nassau Dolphin Experience via photopin (license)

So let's be realistic, this probably isn't regular viable option for most of us living in the UK. By no means is it something that I would encourage just anyone to take part in. Swimming with dolphins in theme and marine parks has come in for heavy criticism in recent years, particularly those with less scrupulous policies on animal welfare.

But despite the controversy surrounding there are still a number of positive health and psychological benefits reported, particularly within therapy settings. When dealing with severe physical or emotional disorders ,many patients' families have reported excellent results in help with communication and physical skills.

And if none of those take your fancy...

Go For A Walk!

photo credit: via photopin (license)

As I have written in a previous article, walking is one of the most accessible activities that anyone can take part in. It provides us with exercise, connecting with nature, and the physical and mental space we need from the stresses of daily life. In my view walking is the best kind of meditation, so if you want to reap the rewards of the nature waiting just outside your front door then go for a stroll!