LAND Connections  

This mailer has been provided as an avenue of dispersing information related to landscape architecture in hopes of fostering greater understanding and collaboration between professions. Topics address issues that affect the built environment within which we live.


The role of nature in healing and overall human health.

"An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.", Henry David Thoreau

The role of natural environments on human health is so widely accepted by researchers that the term "Vitamin G" has become a common reference for the physical, psychological, and social need for access to the natural environment. This month's column identifies three health conditions in which nature plays a significant role in overall human health: healthy recovery, healthy minds and healthy bodies.

logoHealthy Recovery- Professionals and researches who work closely with natural elements have long promoted the effects of nature on health and well-being. Despite their efforts however, not until recently has society begun to embrace the fact that incorporation of the natural world into health recovery programs and facilities can produce amazing results. An early study into this phenomenon showed that patients in rooms with views of exterior landscapes recovered more quickly than those without views. These patients required less pain medication, had fewer negative comments, less post-surgery complications, and were allowed to return home more quickly.6 Access to outdoor environments increases the speed of recovery and is actually prescribed as part of some recovery programs. There are many theories to why this phenomenon of nature assisted recovery occurs ranging from redirected attention to the presence of natural plant secretions in the air. Regardless of the reasons, the results are unmistakable. One study in Japan revealed that hikes through forested areas significantly reduced stress and increased immune system levels over traditional hikes in urban settings. Heightened immune system levels where still apparent and effective 30 days after the hikes occurred.4 Studies like these are just a few of the many which support nature's powerful role in healthy recovery.


Healthy Minds - In addition to aiding in physical recovery, access to nature (via visual means or by actual physical entry) provides opportunities to escape from the conflict between mechanical and biological demands on our time. This conflict is much of the cause for undesirable psychosomatic symptoms such as irritability, sleep disorders, clinical depression, headaches and uneasiness. Interaction with open natural settings increases activity in the brain's right hemisphere evening out brain function as a whole, sometimes described as "clearing your head".5 Open spaces are also reportedly associated with the psychological emotions of "peacefulness", "tranquility" and "relaxation".2 In fact, hiking in general, releases endorphins and adrenaline into the system reducing anxiety, stress and blood pressure, resulting in a better toned and healthier mental state.1 Other well documented mental health benefits associated with green environments include improved cognitive function, improved ability for a proactive approach to life, improved self-mastery and willpower, greater capacity to weather stressors and overall improved mental stability. In contrast, correlations have also been made between diminished access to nature and elevated levels of clinical depression, unhappiness and attention/anxiety disorders.3

logoHealthy Bodies- As the country faces many health issues related to our physical bodies such as obesity and coronary heart disease, maximizing the effectiveness of our exercise programs has become increasingly important. It is almost unnecessary to mention that if people are outdoors, they are most likely engaging in physical activity. Exercise and recreational activities commonly associated with outdoor spaces are a large part of keeping physically fit and reducing susceptibility to disease. This exercise alone is effective, but "green exercise" (exercise in combination with natural spaces) has shown to be even more effective at improving physical health. Recent studies have found that exercise in green environments has greater benefits for cardiovascular and mental health than does regular exercise. Other benefits of green exercise over traditional exercise are lower blood pressure, more pleasant attitudes and the restoration of natural enthusiasm and energy.5 These benefits in conjunction with nature's ability to strengthen the body's immune system appear to be an effective recipe for healthy living!

Prior Issues of Interest

- Nature Series: Infusing Nature into Play
- The Parks and Rec Budget Reduction Trend
- Artificial Landscape Water Cycles
- Dog Park Basics
- Playground Safety: What's the Big Deal?

O'Dell Engineering

The next time you need a Landscape Architect on your project, consider O'Dell Engineering's Landscape Architecture Department.

Services include:

  • Park and Playground Design
  • Recreational Facility Design
  • Site Planning
  • Streetscape Design
  • Urban Design
  • Commercial Design
  • Model / Production Homes
  • 3-D Visualizations
  • Graphic Design
  • Arboriculture Consulting
  • Playground Inspection

1-American Hiking Society. A Step in the Right Direction: The Health Benefits of Hiking and Trails. AHS.
2-Frumkin,Howard. Beyond Toxicity:Human Health and the Natural Environment. Amercian Journal of Preventative Medicine. 20. No.3 2001.
3-Kuo, Frances E. (Ming). Parks and Other Green Environments: Essential Components of a Healthy Human Habitat. National Recreation and Parks Association, Ashburn, VA. 2010..
4-Li, Q.Effect of Forest Bathing Trips on Human Immune Functioning. Environmental Health Prev Med. Jan. 15(1)9-17. 2010. .
5-Maller, Cecily. et all. Healthy Parks, Healthy People: The Health Benefits of Contact with Nature on a Park Context. 2nd ed. Deakin University and Parks Victoria. 2008

6-Ulrich, R.S. View Through a Window May Influence Recovery from Surgery. Science. 224, 42-421. 1984
Author: Chad Kennedy, Landscape Architect

This informational article provided by O'Dell Engineering - 1165 Scenic Drive, Suite A, Modesto CA 95350