Like nature itself, the health benefits gain when experiencing nature are infinite and wondrous. In his renowned study, View through a window may influence recovery from surgery, Roger Ulrich compared the medical records of two groups of patients who undergone gall bladder surgery. The patients in each group were carefully matched in terms of age, gender, health and weight. However, in one group the patients had a view of deciduous trees from their hospital room’s window while in the alternative group, the patients’ view was of a brick wall. Apart from this all others factors were the same including layout of the room, furniture and window size. The patients were even cared for by the same nurse as their matched partner.

Trees and recovery rate

Ulrich found a significant difference in the recovery rates of the two groups. Those patients who had a view of the trees made a swifter recovery than those who had a view of the wall, they took less moderate and strong pain killers, they were discharged earlier, had less postoperative complications and had more positive notes added to their medical records such as “moving well” and “in good spirits.”

Are there health benefits of nature?

What does this say about the health benefits of nature? Is it possible that merely being exposed to a natural scene such as trees can aid recovery in this way, and if so how? The answer may be found in Ulrich’s stress reduction theory that argues that humans have evolved to respond positively to non-threatening natural stimuli. This produces a positive emotional response and reduces stress and anxiety. A reduction in stress is associated with improved functioning of the immune system which in turn aids recovery.

Use more nature in healthcare?

Can we, should we build more nature into our hospitals and care homes? The architects of many old Victorian hospitals understood the health benefits of nature and incorporated it into the design of hospitals and sanatoriums. Now this understanding is coming to the fore again and in her review of the therapeutic value of natural environments, Claire Hickman, a landscape and medical historian, charts the ‘birth, survival and revival’ of hospital gardens. Hospital gardens have a vital role to play in the health of patients, staff and even visitors. They provide a place where a sense of control is re-established, where stress is reduced and where positive social interactions take place. Patients and their visitors can leave the sterile ward and regain a sense of normality. Staff can recharge in the gardens. This is becoming an increasingly urgent need as staff in the medical professions often report high levels of stress and burn out. Everyone can benefit from the restorative power of nature at a time when they need it most.

Hickman, C. (2012). Therapeutic Landscapes. Green Places, 37-40.

Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420–421.

Ulrich, R. S., Simons, R. F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M. A., & Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, 201–230.

About the author: Read more about Bryony Shaw, MAPP.


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