Yes, we just discussed how nature supports a long life, but Loewe says these longevity benefits actually have a lot to do with mental health—we likely don't have to remind you how stress can impact your overall health. “Mental health is not just nice to have. It's necessary to have, and nature is a place we can go to improve it,” she says.
Just take this “Mappiness” study, for example, which used an iPhone app to ping participants at different times of the day to ask them what they were doing, how they felt, and what environment they were in. The results? “[Researchers] found that most often people felt restored and relaxed in an area that had both blue space and green space,” Loewe recounts. What’s more, they felt the least relaxed indoors.
And to circle back to the forest bathing conversation, research has shown that the phytoncides on forest trees (aka, what gives them their smell) were associated with increased heart rate variability. “It's the calming look of the branches, the calming smell of the leaves, all these things combine into that nature experience,” Loewe notes.
Indoor nature spaces can have an impact, too. Loewe highlights Matthew Wichrowski, MSW, HTR, a horticultural therapist at NYU: "Essentially his job is to go from room to room throughout the hospital and ask clients about the sorts of plants or flowers that they enjoy,” she explains. “He sources them and brings them to their rooms, helps them plant them, and gets them set up in a nice spot.”
And when he studied around 100 people who were recovering from a cardiac event, he found that patients who underwent his horticultural therapy program reported a better mood and improved heart health outcomes after their sessions, compared to those who did more traditional therapy. So good news if you've got a thing for houseplants: “There might actually be some restorative benefits to keeping them in your home,” says Loewe.