The Curative Power of Nature

AJW’s thoughts on the restorative power of nature and time in green spaces.

By on January 27, 2023 | Comments

AJW's TaproomIn a study released last week by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, researchers found that visiting nature three to four times a week was associated with 36% lower odds of needing blood pressure pills, 33% lower odds of needing mental health medications, and 26% lower odds of needing asthma medications. The study, which consisted of interviews of over 6,000 subjects in three cities in Finland, also noted that: “Physical activity is thought to be the key mediating factor in the health benefits of green spaces when availability or active use of green space is considered,” according to the study co-author Anu Turunen.

Since the study focused mainly on urban dwellers, the spaces which were thought to be most beneficial were parks, forests, creek paths, and ocean fronts. In addition, researchers found that not just recreating in green and blue spaces but simply having sensual exposure to such spaces could have significant physical and mental health benefits. Add to that exercising in such spaces, and the benefits increased further.

Chicago tree art

Art on a tree in Chicago, Illinois, as encountered by the author on an urban run. All photos courtesy of Andy Jones-Wilkins.

As a life-long distance runner, I have often wondered specifically about the impact of running in nature on my mental health. I have long held the belief that running itself, regardless of location, was good for my health, both physical and otherwise. And perhaps it is. However, this study also brings to mind that the choice of where I run can have an even greater impact. For me, what I love about running, especially trail running, is how immersive it is and how deep the connection to the natural world can be.

Take, for example, a recent run I went on here in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve of Arizona, where I now live. To conduct an experiment to test the results of the Finnish study, I mapped out a route that started on the sidewalk adjacent to a busy road, transitioned to a paved road climb through a residential area, and then into the singletrack maze of trails that makes up the preserve. I endeavored to remain mindful of my mood, my breathing, and mindset while also being cognizant of my reaction to the conditions. I can’t say, for sure, if the benefits were immediately obvious. But I can say that the part of the run in the desert on the tranquil trails felt more enjoyable, and perhaps that alone provides a health benefit.

Moving forward, I am going to continue to test the Finnish study by running, hiking, and cycling in various places near my home, some of which are greenspaces and others that are not. I will document my feelings and reactions to these spaces and attempt to draw some conclusions. While I am only one person, I am eager to see what nature can teach. As the late, great Wallace Stegner famously wrote, “We need these wild spaces … even if we do nothing more than drive to their edge and look in, for they can be the geography of hope.”

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Sawtooth Brewery in Hailey, Idaho. Mountain Time Golden Ale is a classic American golden ale with a rich blend of malty crispness. At 5% ABV and a mere 20 IBUs, Mountain Time is a smooth-drinking beer that is a perfect accompaniment to a long day out in the mountains.

Call for Comments

  • Do you find getting out in nature to be therapeutic?
  • Do you live in a city? If so, do you go out of your way to find somewhere green to run?
AJW and his dog Josey, a black dog with curly hair

Andy Jones-Wilkins and his dog, Josey, in their natural environment.

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Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.