How many times have we been advised to enjoy the outdoors? To garden? To walk on the lawn early in the morning, to commune with nature as we sip our morning tea? A recent study conducted by the University of Plymouth, UK, on 149 participants aged 21-65 has found that affinity to greenery helps reduce craving for alcohol, cigarettes and harmful foods. The participants were given a questionnaire and were asked about their eating and craving habits. It was found that those who had regular exposure to greenery in any form had less craving.
“It is often seen that spending time in green spaces, specially natural ones, makes one happy. The exact mechanism is not known. But it is believed that while seeing greenery, neuro-circuits of the brain are activated and they release positive hormones,” explains Dr Anjali Chabaria, psychiatrist, Mindtemple, Mumbai. She further explains that since many people take to various addictions to fight stress in life, greenery acts as the perfect counter.
Another study says that if your childhood was spent in proximity to greenery, it decreases the chances of emotional and mental issues later in life. The Journal of Physiological Anthropology published a study which stressed the fact that active interaction with indoor plants (like touching and smelling) can reduce physiological and psychological stress.
We all know how regular exercises in a natural environment positively affects cardiac issues, blood pressure and the production of stress hormones. It gives new life and strength to various joints of the body and relaxes our muscles, besides lowering the risk of dementia. Being surrounded by a beautiful garden always imparts a sense of tremendous pleasure and calmness.
“There are cases where a patient needed rehabilitation from alcohol, drugs or tobacco addiction, but couldn’t succeed,” says Dr Pooja Shivam Jaitly, psychologist, Ariston Hospital, Delhi. Now therapeutic approaches are being used along with medication and closeness to nature is an important aspect, she adds.
“We advice our patients to have maximum access to nature and indulge in activities such as watering plants, gardening and even ploughing the soil. It helps fight stress and anxiety, which often lead to addictions,” she explains. During counselling sessions, patients are encouraged to bring about a change in their lifestyle with the help of nature.
“There are many holistic treatments being used to counsel patients suffering from different types of addictions. Spending time in green surroundings is just one such therapy,” says Dr Samir Parikh, director, Mental Health, Fortis Hospital, Delhi. He, however, believes that more studies are needed to co-relate the two. But there is no doubt that exposure to nature not only takes care of your mental health but also contributes to your physical fitness.
In a study at Stanford University, two set of volunteers were chosen, of which the first set was assigned to walk for 90 minutes through a leafy, quiet, park-like portion of the Stanford campus and another set was assigned to walk in a loud, hectic, multi-lane highway in Palo Alto. The volunteers were not allowed to have companions or listen to music.
It was found that in those walking along the highway, blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex—brain—was high. But the volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health. They also had less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. That portion of their brain was quieter. It was also seen that the first set of volunteers were more attentive and happier afterwards than those who strolled for the same amount of time near heavy traffic.