When you’re looking to make home improvements or planning to relocate with one eye on the property listings in your intended destination, where does nature rank among your priorities?
For most people, the answer is probably not very high. Price and location, style and features, return on investment for upgrades, these things matter.
But proximity to nature, or the addition of natural elements, deserves to be among those priorities.
Finding fitness in nature
Modern lifestyles place a strong emphasis on fitness. We know that obesity is strongly linked to a higher risk of illness, such as heart disease, hypertension, or stroke. It makes little sense to be affluent and have a comfortable place to live if poor health compromises your quality of living.
Yet those who aren’t physically fit also face significant barriers to improving in this regard. If you’re not in the habit of exercising regularly, it’s easy to come up with excuses. Such as “the gym is too far,” or “membership is too expensive,” or “not today, I’m too tired.”
Green exercise offers an alternative that can be even better for the average person struggling to make fitness a habit.
Research shows that people who exercise while in nature not only reap greater rewards in terms of physical fitness, they also receive a boost to their mental well-being.
Simply stepping into nature, whether it’s the great outdoors or an urban park, already makes you feel better and full of energy. It lowers the barrier to physical exertion because we evolved to have an affinity for nature and physical movement. And this can help your continued adherence to an exercise program.
This adds a new dimension to the truism that it’s all about “location, location, location.”
As the pandemic has recently shown us, many jobs can be carried out working from home. Gone are the days of overpaying for proximity to the city center. Instead, look for house and land packages that put you a stone’s throw away from nature.
A place to recharge
The positive benefits of nature for mental health are worthwhile in themselves.
In a city surrounded by bustling crowds and artificial steel and concrete structures, we can easily feel stressed and drained of energy.
By contrast, surround yourself with nature, and you feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
These effects aren’t just a trick of the mind. Psychologists have developed a model called attention restoration theory (ART) that explains why nature has this restorative effect and gathered evidence to support it.
Restoration occurs in four stages. First, the mind is passively cleared. Second, our directed attention is recovered, reducing mental fatigue. Third, soft fascination in a low-stimulus activity allows us to relax. Finally, spending time in a restorative environment allows us to reflect and fully recharge.
Natural environments tend to meet the criteria for restoration. They allow us to “be away” from everyday life and sources of stress. They are a source of soft fascination, helping you mentally disengage. And they allow you to be extensively immersed while feeling totally at ease.
We build homes for shelter, giving us a place to rest our bodies safely. But without natural elements, we’re passing up a valuable chance to restore our minds as well.
Living somewhere with access to nature can easily remedy that. You can also make improvements such as transforming the yard into a green space where you can hang out or do telework. You can make a garden out of an indoor wall or a window sill or patio even without a yard.
Giving back to the ecosystem
On the matter of yards and gardens, homeowners should note that they aren’t uniformly beneficial.
Indeed, any green space, even a small one, in your home can be restorative. And if it’s big enough, you can do your green exercise routines there without having to leave.
But most lawns aren’t tended sustainably. They consist of a handful of plant varieties, usually non-native, which require intensive upkeep. Pesticides and herbicides, fertilizers, the water consumed, even the energy burned to keep the grass trimmed are all things that harm the environment.
Do you want to maintain a green space that benefits you but is detrimental to the planet? What if some alternatives could be sustainable and beneficial to the environment as well?
Pollinator gardens are the solution. Filling your yard with native plants might not win you any garden show awards. But these species are disease- and drought-resistant, requiring almost zero maintenance as they’ve evolved to be perfectly adapted to local conditions. And they attract pollinator species as well, which helps sustain the local ecosystem.
Next time you plan an upgrade or a move, think about ranking nature higher on your priority list in light of these considerations.