Keeping yourself in the green of health
The article below appeared in the December 5 issue of Health with Perdana, a regular column in The Star by Perdana University faculty members. This week’s article is contributed by Ms.Darlina Hani Fadil Azim, Clinical Psychologist and Lecturer at Perdana University-Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
During the movement control order, many people either took up new hobbies or were reacquainted with old ones that they perhaps did not have much time for prior to being forced to stay at home.
These hobbies included baking, exercising, making the perfect cup of Dalgona coffee, and also planting and gardening, among others.
As movement restrictions were slowly lifted and district borders reopened, we saw many families going for picnics at parks, riversides and waterfalls, as well as many people going hiking.
Fast forward to when the state borders reopened and we saw many more families and groups flocking to more nature-centered locations, such as beaches and highlands.
There seems to be this natural need for people to head towards nature or to be in more natural settings.
The term “biophilia” is often used to describe this affinity, which is the innate tendency for human beings to seek connections with nature and other living beings.
We even refer to nature when we need a break or some rejuvenation, e.g. “I need some fresh air”, “Let’s go get some sun” or “That breeze feels so wonderful”.
For many who live in urban settings where nature and greenery may be scarce, we bring the outdoors in by having plants, flowers, and sometimes water features, in our homes.
Some may also have plants on their desks and at their workplace.
So, why do we do this?
Are there any benefits in surrounding ourselves with nature, or having even a small pot of it in our office cubicles?
It turns out that there are many emotional, mental and physical health benefits of plants and greenery.
Here are some of them:
Reduces anxiety, stress and depression
Various studies have shown that being in open green spaces and in natural settings can reduce psychological distress, reduce mental fatigue recovery time, and lower heart rate.
These effects can also be observed when people view images or posters of nature.
Studies have shown that those who are exposed to real plants, or even just pictures of plants, re- ported lower levels of stress.
This is hopeful for people who may have difficulty accessing natural spaces due to safety reasons, disability or movement restrictions, as they can still reap benefits just by spending time looking at images or videos of nature.
For those with natural views outside their windows, just looking out can be therapeutic as well.
Alternatively, greenery and plants can be brought into our personal spaces, be it in our homes or offices.
Hence, having potted plants and greenery around the office can help employees reduce their stress levels.
For some who may feel like they do not have a green thumb, starting off with easy-to-care-for plants can be a fulfilling and relaxing endeavour as well.
Taking the time to learn which plants to have, how to care for them and watching them grow, can help to bring some joy and calm into our lives.
Improves physical health
There are many positive effects of trees that can improve our physical health.
The main one is, of course, that trees produce the oxygen that we need to live.
Trees also improve air quality by filtering pollutants from the air we breathe.
In addition, trees act as a natural coolant system, especially in our hot climate.
Green, open spaces also offer the space and opportunity for people to run, walk and play.
Just take a look at your nearest playground or football field, and see how many people are enjoying the green space there.
Apart from the benefits of trees, the act of planting and gardening is also a good way to keep physically active.
Digging holes, raking leaves and pulling weeds require a reasonable amount of strength, flexibility and endurance.
It keeps our hands and minds busy, and can help to bring a sense of peace and comfort as our focus and attention is channelled towards cultivating and nurturing life.
Boosts happiness and life satisfaction
Spending time in nature, especially in the presence of water, can have a positive impact on our mood, behaviour and psychological wellbeing.
When we are outdoors, we do not feel as lonely, even if it is in a green space in an urban setting.
Communities and townships that have high-quality public open spaces tend to have better health and community wellbeing.
Studies have shown that people who live in neighbourhoods with a higher density of trees have lesser cardiometabolic conditions, while people who move to a community with less greenery reported poorer mental health within one year of the move.
Enhances creativity, productivity and attention
Working offices that have views of nature or natural sunlight shining into the office re- ported higher productivity and attention of their employees.
When there are plants in the office, employees perceived a more relaxed working environment.
They also thought it cheered up the office environment and made the office feel more like a home.
This made employees happier, and thus, improved productivity and motivation.
Similar findings were found with schoolchildren.
Students who studied in classrooms with green plants reported better concentration and academic performance.
Schools that included gardening in the school curriculum managed to increase students’ physical activity and reduce their sedentary behaviour.
Get out there
Based on all these benefits, spending some time in nature or surrounding ourselves with plants is a cost-effective way of improving both our mental and physical health.
Some practical recommendations to accomplish this are:
Spend some time in nature
It can be at a nearby park, forest reserve, river, beach or highlands.
Switch off your electronic gad-gets and just immerse yourself with the sights and sounds of your surroundings.
Be mindful of what’s going on around you and in your mind as well.
Carry out daily activities like drinking your coffee, reading or exercising outside.
Take a step out of your house or apartment, or find a sunny spot within, and spend some time there.
Take a walk
Just talking a walk outdoors can be beneficial for your physical and mental health.
Introduce your children to nature
Explore nature with them so that they can enjoy and appreciate it from an early age.
The earlier they are exposed to nature, the greater the benefit, as the positive effects of spending time in nature accumulates over time.
So go out, bask in the sun, get some fresh air and feel better about yourself.