Registered nutritional therapist, Rose Legge at Vitaminology explains how we can reconnect with nature to help achieve a healthy body and mind
With our technological advances and fast-paced lives, modern living can sometimes leave us feeling frazzled, disconnected and separate from the natural world. However, humans have always been and still remain a part of nature.
We have basic biological needs and requirements that can only be obtained from the natural world through nutritious food that is grown or raised on the land, natural sunlight that regulates our sleep patterns and provides vitamin D, and fresh air and green spaces for movement, rest and recuperation.
Approaches to wellness such as human re-wilding, plant medicine, forest therapy, nature-based mindfulness and forest schools have risen in popularity in recent years as people seek a deeper connection with the natural world and a return to simpler, more sustainable lifestyles.
If you feel like you have been neglecting that wilder part of yourself and you are looking to connect more deeply with nature for a healthier body and mind, this article offers some tips and ideas to help you get started.
Four ways to connect with nature
- Forest therapy
Also known as Shinrin-Yoku, forest therapy involves immersing yourself in the atmosphere of the forest and includes elements of mindfulness, such as focusing on the present moment, deep breathing and being aware of the sights, sounds and smells of your natural surroundings. The term was introduced in Japan in 1982 and there has since been a magnitude of scientific studies looking at the health-promoting benefits of spending time in forests, woodlands or other natural spaces, with particular emphasis on stress reduction for those living in urban environments.
A recent study found significant evidence for the positive effects of forest therapy on human health. Benefits included improved cardiovascular health, reduced blood pressure, improved immunity through increased activity of white blood cells called natural killer cells (NKC), reduced activity of the ‘fight or flight’ stress response and stimulation of the part of the nervous system responsible for relaxation, rest and digestion. Phytoncides are essential oils released by plants and trees into the forest atmosphere and it is thought that these oils are responsible for some of the positive health effects of forest bathing, particularly the benefits for immunity.
You don’t have to live in a cabin deep in the forest to fully experience the benefits of forest therapy. Find a local nature reserve, park, woodland or forest to visit and enjoy a gentle walk. Whilst you’re walking, pay attention to your surroundings and your breath, notice the smells, sounds, sights, colours and how being in the natural elements feels. For a guided experience, look in your local area for forest-bathing walks led by a forest therapy guide.
- Get some indoor plants
Introducing greenery in the form of indoor plants can help to improve your mood and emotional wellbeing, particularly if you spend a lot of time indoors. A recent review of 45 studies found that an indoor space with plants is associated with positive emotions such as friendliness, happiness, cheerfulness, relaxation and peacefulness and reduced negative emotions such as anxiety, pressure and fatigue, compared to indoor spaces without plants. Greater concentration and productivity was also found in people living in homes with indoor plants compared to those with no indoor plants.
House plants don’t cost too much and are a great way to bring nature indoors to promote a feeling of calm!
- Give gardening a try
Gardening is a pastime associated with a wide array of health benefits such as reduced depression and anxiety, weight management, increased life satisfaction and better quality of life. Learning to grow and care for plants can be an exciting and rewarding experience, and brings you into direct contact with nature, the seasons and the natural cycles of life, whilst also keeping physically active. Physical contact with natural materials such as soil and moss can improve the diversity of the skin microbiome, which helps to keep the skin healthy and reduce inflammation and redness. Who knew gardening could help your skin too!
To try your hand at gardening, you just need a small patch of land, either your own garden or you could apply for an allotment or help out at a community garden.
- Learn to forage
Foraging is a great way to connect with your local landscape. Different plants grow at different times of the year so it can also be a fun way to follow nature where you live throughout the changing seasons. Edible foods that can be foraged include elderberries, sloe berries, blackberries, rosehips, hazelnuts, wild strawberries, nettle, wild garlic, dandelion and chamomile, to name just a few, which can be used in all manner of tasty dishes.
However, it’s important that you know what you’re picking and to never munch on a hunch as there may be toxic look-alike plants, and some plants require careful preparation before they are safe to consume. For safe foraging, consult a reliable plant identification book and follow these guidelines to look after yourself and to look after yourself and your environment. There may even be some expert-led foraging walks in your local area that you can join
 Rajoo KS, Karam DS, Abdullah MZ. The physiological and psychosocial effects of forest therapy: A systematic review. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. [internet] 2020 October [cited 2022 May 12]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1618866720304039
 Han K, Ruan L. Effects of Indoor Plants on Self-Reported Perceptions: A Systemic Review. Sustainability. [internet] 2019 August [cited 2022 May 12]. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/11/16/4506/htm
 Soga M, Gaston KJ, Yamaurac Y. Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive Medicine Reports. [internet] 2017 March [cited 2022 May 12]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5153451/
 Grönroos M, Parajuli A, Laitinen OH. et al. Short‐term direct contact with soil and plant materials leads to an immediate increase in diversity of skin microbiota. Microbiologyopen. [internet] 2018 May [cited 2022 May 12]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6436432/