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It's Cold, but Nature Beckons

Getting out for a hike improves mental health, studies show. (
Getting out for a hike improves mental health, studies show. (
January 25, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – While Mother Nature continues to sock Illinois with snow and ice, a new series of studies has found exposure to nature makes people feel better about their bodies.

In the first study, researchers found that simply looking at images of nature, as opposed to urban landscapes, made people more satisfied with their physical appearance.

In the next study, participants either took a 1.5-mile hike through a woodland park or walked through the city.

The hikers felt better about their bodies, while those who walked through the city actually felt worse.

Viren Swami, the psychologist who led the studies, has some ideas on why the hikers felt better.

"They might come to appreciate the fact that they are part of a much wider ecological system that requires care and nurturing,” he states. “And maybe people who spend time in green spaces might come to think of their bodies as requiring care, requiring respect, requiring nurturance – rather than constantly thinking about what it should look like."

Swami says people in cities are constantly bombarded with images of what they should look like.

In contrast, in nature people get a relief from this bombardment and perhaps focus more on what their bodies can do rather than what they look like.

Negative body perception is widespread in the United States. Swami says about 60 percent of women and 50 percent of men suffer from some form of negative body image.

But Swami adds that nature has other benefits besides strengthening our image of ourselves.

"Even if you don't really care about body image very much, there is a ton of evidence suggesting that access to green space and spending time in nature is good for your mental health in general,” he states. “So, even if you think you have positive body image, spending time in green space is good because it probably will help your mental health."

Studies have shown being in nature has a range of benefits, including helping with depression and increasing creativity.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL