January 28, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

Nature Is Therapeutic Even if Virtual

Getting outdoors is good for physical and mental health,
but even looking at nature does some good


More evidence supports a running theme at CEH: exposure to natural beauty, especially in the outdoors, improves health.

Going for a walk outside found to have more mental health benefits than walking indoors (Medical Xpress, 24 Jan 2023). Walk. If you can’t go outside, use an indoor treadmill. But if you can walk outdoors, that’s better.

A team of researchers at the University of Victoria, working with a colleague from York University, both in Canada, has found that going for a short walk outdoors provides people with more mental health benefits than going for a same-length walk inside. In their study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, the group asked volunteers to walk indoors or outdoors and tested them before and after their walk.

The press release shows how this was measured. Benefits of outdoor walking include physical and mental parameters. More detail can be found in the research paper below:

Paper: Boere et al., Exercising is good for the brain but exercising outside is potentially better. Nature Scientific Reports, 20 Jan 2023.

Isn’t this better than screen time? (Corel Pro Photos)

Getting kids outdoors can reduce the negative effects of screen time (Osaka University, 23 Jan 2023). Does anyone think that screen time is good for children? Some of the bad effects of ours looking at TV or phones or video games can be overcome by outdoor play.

If you have young children, you’re likely worried about how much time they spend staring at a screen, be it a tablet, phone, computer, or television. You probably also want to know how screen time affects your child’s development and wonder whether there’s anything you can do to balance out any negative effects. New research from Japan indicates that more screen time at age 2 is associated with poorer communication and daily living skills at age 4—but when kids also play outdoors, some of the negative effects of screen time are reduced.

> Paper: Sugiyama et al., Outdoor Play as a Mitigating Factor in the Association Between Screen Time for Young Children and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes. JAMA Pediatrics, 20 Jan 2023.

There may be nature trails not far from your home. (DFC)

Daily exposure to virtual nature reduces symptoms of anxiety in college students (Browning et al., Nature Scientific Reports, 23 Jan 2023). Can experiencing nature virtually through a VR device make up for loss of outdoor health for college students suffering depression, panic attacks and other sources of anxiety? In some cases, yes.

Abstract: Exposure to natural environments offers an array of mental health benefits. Virtual reality provides simulated experiences of being in nature when outdoor access is limited. Previous studies on virtual nature have focused mainly on single “doses” of virtual nature. The effects of repeated exposure remain poorly understood. Motivated by this gap, we studied the influence of a daily virtual nature intervention on symptoms of anxiety, depression, and an underlying cause of poor mental health: rumination. Forty college students (58% non-Hispanic White, median age = 19) were recruited from two U.S. universities and randomly assigned to the intervention or control group. Over several weeks, anxious arousal (panic) and anxious apprehension (worry) decreased with virtual nature exposure. Participants identifying as women, past VR users, experienced with the outdoors, and engaged with the beauty in nature benefited particularly strongly from virtual nature. Virtual nature did not help symptoms of anhedonic depression or rumination. Further research is necessary to distinguish when and for whom virtual nature interventions impact mental health outcomes.

The findings show that “people with limited physical capacity or who face social and mental barriers to accessing safe outdoor environments” can benefit from the next best thing: seeing the beauty of nature through a headset that makes them feel like they are out there.

The findings of this study reinforce a growing body of literature that finds virtual nature is an effective, safe, and acceptable intervention for mental health promotion. While actual outdoor nature is likely to have stronger effects than virtual nature, virtual nature can produce an array of beneficial effects. These extend beyond physiological, affective, and cognitive restoration to social, ecological, and “transcendent” (altered state of consciousness, or revelations where the self and environment are perceived anew) restoration. Virtual nature should be offered to populations who do not have safe access to outdoor settings due to psychological, physical, residential, or other barriers. In particular, virtual nature could be recommended to clinical populations and people living and working in isolated and confined environments (i.e., polar regions, submarines, cargo ships, and outer space)

It’s not as good as really being outdoors in a beautiful setting, but some of the benefits can be made available this way.

What people do you know who could benefit from some virtual nature? Shut-ins, prisoners, hospital patients, or even healthy people who have to remain inside during bad weather should try this. If you can get outside, make it part of your daily routine. Do your own experiment and see if it improves your mental and physical health.

Here is a subject that creationists and evolutionists could agree on, but for different reasons. Evolutionists might say that we evolved outdoors, and being cooped up inside is contrary to our nature. Creationists, by contrast, will reason that God put our first parents in a garden with access to all the trees and animals He made, and said it was “very good.” I prefer the latter explanation, because it promotes gratitude, which is also healthy (24 Nov 2022, 22 Nov 2012).

For the ultimate in outdoor vitality, consider backpacking in the mountains, staying for days in the great outdoors where the majesty of God’s creation surrounds you. (DFC, Creation Safaris).






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