I am definitely here for more people adopting a plant-based diet. But while eating your greens is important, instead I want to talk about how bringing green into your home can lead to an improved wellbeing. Especially if you live in an area where nature is not all that accessible.
As somewhat of a new plant parent myself, I am a little bit biased. Though, for the longest time I thought I had somehow avoided the green thumb that’s been inherited across generations in my family. My late grandfather was a professional gardener, and my parents have grown fruits and vegetables intermittently over the years. So tell me why, when studying at university, a bonsai tree almost instantly withered and died upon entering my room?!
Looking back I know I wasn’t living in the best conditions, and I probably rarely watered the poor thing. But now that I live in my own space, and have the time to look after myself properly, I have successfully kept alive my own little brood of plants. See the family below!
The relaxing effects of nature…
For many of us, we often associate natural environments with feelings of peace and calmness. Urban environments on the other hand can sometimes feel stressful and chaotic. Though the research area has picked up in recent years, scientists have been noting the healing effects of nature for some time now. Kaplan (1992) in particular has wrote a lot about the subject, noting our human connection to nature. Many more researchers have clued into this, and for the past decade a wave of new publications have investigated the link between nature and mental wellbeing.
For example, researchers Gidlow et al. (2016) have found significant differences while being in different environments, comparing natural and urban spaces. The study consisted of participants walking around residential areas, natural green areas, and natural areas with water, where several measurements were taken throughout (both psychological and physiological measures were taken).
The results showed that walking around in the natural areas was associated with improvements in cognitive functioning, compared to the residential area. Although participants in all areas showed a level of stress-reduction, indicated by reduced cortisol levels, because of the positive effects of walking in general, being in the natural environments showed greater benefits to the individuals.
In essence, this shows that being surrounded by nature can boost your overall wellbeing, reducing stress and improving cognitive functioning. But when you do not have access to a nice park or wooded area to walk around in, the next best thing you can do is to bring nature indoors.
A VR Alternative?
Obviously, the ‘real deal’ is always going to be the better option. But, as more of us are moving towards highly developed urban areas, it is very easy to be cut off completely from nature. While I manage in my own apartment, most people do not have the time, nor energy, to dedicate to the world of horticulture. But what if you could simulate that world?
As technology becomes more sophisticated, we are seeing a rise in in-home tech that can do more and more. Virtual reality is an area that has seen a massive boom in the past few years, as gamers look for more immersive experiences. Academics have also taken note, with many university research departments investing in this latest technology.
But is this a route we could possible take, to connect with nature in a more convenient way? Possibly, although research evidence is lacking currently at the moment. A piece of research by Kjellgren and Buhrkhall (2010) has looked at the differences in the restorative effects of natural environments, and their simulated counterparts. The results showed that many associated much more positive effects of the real natural environment, with reports of feeling renewed and awakened, and a boost in their quality of life. This compared to the simulated environment, where participants reported feeling restless and anxious.
It should be said that both environments did show improvements in stress reduction, however much more for the irl natural environment. But, this was back in 2010, where the ‘simulation’ was nothing more than a slideshow of pictures that participants watched on a screen. Now we have much more robust pieces of equipment, that can fully emerge people into the worlds we can create. I would be very much interested to see how research can apply this newer technology, to see if we can recreate the positive health effects that mother nature bestows on us.
For more information on the area, I would recommend searching for any publications by Dr. Gemma Hurst . Currently based at Staffordshire University, Dr. Hurst is a brilliant lecturer and researcher in Health Psychology, who specialises in environmental impact on health and wellbeing. As a former lecturer of mine, I can vouch that she is an amazing academic, with some really interesting research!
For more information on how to look after plants, I am happy to say there are a plethora of online resources on the subject. Personally I have found YouTube channels like PLANTERINA to be very helpful in my plant parenthood journey. However, as a beginner plant parent, if you know of any good resources I should have a look at, please do let me know.
What do you think? Have you considered growing your own plants? Are you a proud plant parent, and want to show off your collection? Let me know in the comments below!
For the psychologists…
Gidlow, C. J., Jones, M. V., Hurst, G., Masterson, D., Clark-Carter, D., Tarvainen, M. P., Smith, G., Nieuwenhuijsen, M. (2016). Where to put your best foot forward: Psycho-physiological response to walking in natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 45, 22-59.
Kaplan, S. (1992). The Restorative Environment: Nature and Human Experience. In Relf, Diane (ed.), The Role of Horticulture in Human Well-Being and Social Development., Portland: Timber Press.
Kjellgren, A. & Buhrkall, H. (2010). A comparison of the restorative effect of a natural environment with that of a simulated natural environment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30 (4), 464-472.