Ready to get out into nature after this late winter we’ve been having? Want to lend a hand for the planet this Earth Day but not sure where to start? This article will share some of the many benefits that can come from being in nature and get you connected with Earth Day events – as well as share info on fun natural spaces to enjoy any day!
First, take some time to meditate on how great being in nature can be and feel for your mental health. In an article by the American Psychological Association (linked below) the effects of nature on mental health were explored. Research in the article found that having time in natural environments have been linked with improved working memory (how many things you can juggle in your brain at any given time), improved cognitive flexibility (think: ‘go with the flow’), and improved attention control. On the other hand, when we get saturated with urban settings this environment can have a negative effect on our mental health. Being in city spaces can negatively affect our ability to concentrate and function: researchers have found that when people take short breaks to look at green scenery (compared to gray, urban scenery) it leads to making fewer logistical mistakes in tasks. Another finding was that participants listening to calming noises, like waves or crickets chirping, perform better on cognitive tests compared to folks who were listening to busy urban noises, like traffic. With nature improving our functioning so much, it seems a wise choice to get out more often: but if the practicality of nature isn’t enough for you, how about the way it increases happiness?
Interacting with nature has many emotional benefits and can instill a greater sense of purpose in life as well. A recent review of research on people’s interactions with nature, found that connecting with nature increases happiness, improves social interactions, and can also heighten a sense of meaning in life. The emotional effects of nature are also felt by children even into adulthood: a study in Denmark found that children who were grew up around more “green space” (such as parks and forests) tended to have fewer psychiatric conditions down the road compared to children who grew up in spaces with less greenery. While there are many other factors in a kid’s life, being around more nature doesn’t seem to hurt.
So, how much nature do we need to get these benefits? Does it matter whether I’m at a beach or a mountain or a park or just watching a nature show? Let’s start with the first question: preliminary research has found that two hours a week – whether all at once or throughout the week – is enough to boost health and wellbeing. We can’t narrow it more than that just yet, but that’s a good ballpark to aim for! As for the second question, research supports that getting out into areas of rich natural diversity (for example, a nature preserve) is more restorative for visitors compared to areas with less diversity (say, a city park). As for beach vs. mountain, there isn’t strong evidence leaning either way, but some findings suggest that being in ‘blue spaces’ (aquatic environments like beaches) may be even more beneficial than green spaces. But let’s get practical: if you’re in the Capital Region, it’s likely that beaches and mountains are a weekend adventure or maybe a speedy day trip. How about our day to day, week to week? The good news is that spending time in natural spaces like city parks benefit us as well. And if it feels too cold for a walk, still there is budding research on the positive effects of virtual nature experiences: virtual reality experiences of nature have been found to be beneficial in a similar way to experiencing it firsthand, but with smaller effects. Simply watching nature videos has been associated with positive feelings such as joy, calm, and inspiration – a publication by the University of Plymouth reported.
Now that we’ve stoked our motivation to get going, where are we going to? Below are a few resources on ways you can enjoy nature as well as a few suggestions for how to participate in Earth Day events.
Earth Day (April 22nd) Events
- Volunteer for a Conservation Project at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, from 9am-12pm
- Advanced registration required, free event
- Volunteer at the Huyck Preserve to help remove an invasive plant species, Asiatic bittersweet, and make a difference in our natural areas! 10 am – 12 pm
- Advanced registration required, free event
- Also at Huyck Preserve, for go a Spring Tree ID Hike with a tree expert, 12:30 – 2 pm
- Advanced registration required, $5 suggested donation, children under 12 free
- org has some great opportunities to learn more about how to support the planet and they help facilitate events run by local leaders right here in the Capital Region. Check their events page to stay up to date on events being hosted this year.
- Also check social media platforms to see who is getting involved in the community on Earth Day! This is a big day for public clean-ups and other beautification projects.
Natural Areas in the Capital Region
- Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center and nature trails,
- Address: 195 New Karner Road, Albany, NY 12205
- Phone: 518-456-0655
- Huyck Preserve
- Address: 5052 Delaware Turnpike, Rensselaerville, NY 12147
- Phone: 518-797-3440
- Ann Lee Pond Nature and Historic Preserve
- Address: Heritage Lane, Albany, NY 12205
- Phone: 518-655-7948 (this is the number for Albany Co. Parks & Recreation)
- For even more nature preserves, check out the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy’s website for over a dozen nature preserves, in Albany and surrounding counties
By, Christopher Shephard, MHC, EAP Counselor