But we rarely consider how our minds and bodies interact. We seldom think about how stress in our minds can make our bodies feel bad. When we feel bad, we sometimes overeat, don’t take our medication, or fail to get the exercise we need.
When it comes to stress, less is better, at least up to a point. Less stress means less tasks to do, fewer distractions and possessions to have, and even less civilization to live in. We need a new focus on “Less stress is beautiful” to go beyond the previous century’s “small is beautiful” movement.
Now, a new study from the U.K. shows not only that exercise in the open air is good for us but that the coast or countryside is better than an urban park. This is the conclusion of research by Katherine Ashbullby and Dr. Mathew White, a lecturer in health and risk at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, and the School of Psychology, University of Plymouth.
Dr. White presented the findings on Thursday in London at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society. When I wrote him, he sent me a copy of the poster he presented.
“The full paper is currently under peer review,” Dr. White wrote me. “We were a bit nervous that this publicity was premature given it hasn’t been through the peer review process yet. But we are confident in the robustness of the data.”
Dr. White and Dr. Ashbullby studied data from 2,750 English respondents drawn from Natural England’s two-year study of people's engagement with the natural environment. They considered people who had visited urban parks, the countryside, and the coast.
They found that all outdoor locations were associated with positive feelings of enjoyment, calmness, and refreshment. But visits to the coast were most beneficial, and visits to urban parks least beneficial. This finding remained when the researchers took account of factors like people's age, gender, how far they had travelled, the presence of others, and whether they were walking or getting some other type of exercise.
“There is a lot of work on the beneficial effects of visiting natural environments,” Dr. White said, “but our findings suggest it is time to move beyond a simple urban versus rural debate and start looking at the effect that different natural environments have on people’s health and well-being."
More and more evidence suggests that getting out in nature can improve our mood and reduce the stress in our lives. Richard Louv reviews some of it in his most recent book, which I reviewed recently for my “Fitness and Photography for Fun” blog in my article “The Nature Principle.”
And now we know where to go for maximum benefit. Having lived on the California coast from 1977 to 2004, I know how relaxing a walk along the beach can be. Now that I live in the Rocky Mountains I don’t get a chance to visit the coast as often. I make up for that by taking longer hikes.