Being out in the countryside makes you feel better about yourself

If you’re someone who spends time outdoors you probably have a positive body image and high self-esteem. Surprising? You’d better believe it.

Fresh air isn’t just good for your health, it can also help you feel confident about how you look.

A UK study of 199 women and 200 men aged between 19 and 76 from the US – led by Cambridge Professor Viren Swami – has reported that being in natural surroundings can help boost the feeling of being an important part of a wider ecosystem and make people feel more respect for their bodies.

Consequently they take more care of themselves and stay in better health.

It can also help people feel further removed from the pressures of society and lessen the need to conform to stereotypes, such as being thin or muscular.

For the study, participants were asked to visit different locations like the countryside, the seaside, the beach and open spaces in cities like parks.

Then they were asked to describe how their visits and overall experience had affected them.

The researchers found trips to nature were linked to great feelings of relaxation and refreshment.

This was especially true of visits to country or coastal locations, and to protected sites, which were also linked to stronger emotional connections to the natural world.

The strongest connections with nature were found in visits that lasted longer than 30 minutes and so had greater psychological benefits.

Another study from researchers at the universities of Surrey, Exeter, Plymouth, and from Natural England, surveyed 4,500 people as they spent time in nature.

For the first time, they investigated how different environmental settings can affect psychological wellbeing.

Lead author of the paper Dr Kayleigh Wyles, from Surrey University, said: “We’ve demonstrated for some time that nature can be beneficial to us, but we’re still exploring how and why.

“Here we have found our mental wellbeing and our emotional bond with nature may differ depending on the type and quality of an environment we visit.

“These findings are important as they not only help unpick the mechanisms behind these psychological benefits, but they can also help to prioritise the protection of these environments and emphasise why accessibility to nature is so important.”

So what’s the take-home message? I think the findings draw attention to our basic human need to feel an integral part of nature as a whole – and we’re less than happy when we don’t.

We can all fulfil this need with time-outs for communing with nature.