Building for wellbeing: how natural spaces benefit health and positive responses

20 Jun 2013

In the face of more and more evidence supporting the benefits of nature and thoughtfully-designed healing spaces for patients, medical institutions are now drawing ideas from environmental psychology, neuroscience, landscape architecture and public health research to develop healthcare environments that provide optimal healing for patients.

An appreciation of nature – even a spiritual reverence for it – is an age old element of human existence. “We need the tonic of wildness,” Henry David Thoreau wrote. Roger Ulrich’s 1984 study, ‘View from a Window,’ revealed that not only do people prefer views of nature – ideally including water – over urban perspectives but that a greener outlook improves their recovery.

This is a natural leap. For one, nature has a calming effect. Very few people would disagree with this. Indeed, studies prove that we are more stressed by urban landscapes than natural ones.  In addition, if one appreciates what they see out of their window, positive feelings are generated which, in turn, reduce stress and anxiety, which we know are detrimental to our health, and bolster our immune system, which prevents us from getting sick.

But is there a science to this? According to Esther Sternberg, author of a book called Healing Spaces: the Science of Place and Wellbeing, “We may already know that people benefit from being in or looking out onto a garden. But why, and how? Is it the light, the colour, the movement, or something else? We can now use technology such as MRIs, PET scans, and other brain imaging to try to answer those questions, and to try to tease out which environmental factors are creating which responses.” (From an interview with the Therapeutic Landscape Network, available at this link.

Sternberg explains that positive sensory experiences trigger endorphin-heavy parts of the brain. The more endorphins released, the better we feel. In addition, as Sternberg states, natural landscapes “provide a multisensory experience in which more than one positive response is triggered. Light, colour, sound, scent, touch all combine to create a rich positive experience.”

You can purchase a copy of Sternberg’s book from The Book Depository, by clicking here.