Nature’s Therapy and the Science Behind It

January 11, 2020 Joe Brady

The ancient Chinese firmly believed that there was something inherently therapeutic about being around trees and nature. As far back as 147 B.C. in traditional Chinese medicine “nature’s therapy” has been a major branch of the medicine. Remnants of nature’s therapy can still be seen in parks all over China very early in the morning as to this day the Chinese believe it is better to exercise outside than in a gym. Many spiritual traditions believe the same as in Zen gardens, and even in medicine, most hospitals have a healing garden somewhere on the property. Modern science is rediscovering the value of nature’s therapy and the science behind it has shown exposure to the natural world can benefit human beings in a variety of ways, there can be real healing effects to nature’s therapy.

Modern people spend 90% of their time indoors and research is showing that this may be wreaking havoc on our nervous systems as evidenced by the increase in depression and anxiety that characterizes modern living.

In a talk in NCCIH’s Integrative Medicine Research Lecture Series, Dr. Gregory Bratman of the University of Washington discussed the research on nature and mental health and its practical implications – for example, for urban planning and school design. 

To watch the talk read on

Dr. Bratman discusses the current state of the field of research on nature and mental health, as well as an agenda for future research. A growing body of research indicates that the answer is yes. Exposure to nature may improve mood, reduce anxiety, and improve cognitive function. For example, in one study, people who took a walk in a park reported more positive moods and less anxiety than those who walked for the same length of time on busy streets. The people who walked in the park also scored better on a difficult mental test.

In this lecture, Dr. Bratman describes various approaches to measuring the impacts of nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health, and a theory for the causal mechanisms that may be responsible for these effects. The major implications of these findings for urban planning, public policy, and future research directions will also be addressed. During this lecture, Dr. Bratman will: – Review the current state of the field of research on nature and mental health, as well as a proposed agenda for future research. – Discuss the evidence in support of a causal mechanism responsible for the impacts of nature experience on cognitive function, mood, and emotion regulation. – Describe the ways in which this body of evidence may be put into practice and the emerging questions that can be investigated with these applications. Dr. 

Gregory Bratman’s work takes place at the nexus of psychology, public health, and ecology. The inaugural holder of the Doug Walker Endowed Faculty Fellowship, he is an assistant professor of nature, health, and recreation at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington. Dr. Bratman holds a Ph.D. in environment and resources from Stanford University, where he was a James and Nancy Kelso Fellow and a David and Lucile Packard Foundation Fellow. In 2015, he received the Charles A. Lewis Excellence in Research Award from the American Horticultural Therapy Association. He earned a master”s degree in environmental science and management from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a B.A. in philosophy from Princeton University.

You can watch the lecture on NIH Videocast.