The Nature Effect
“Green exercise” taps into the ancient human desire to connect with nature.
You can read about the many positive effects that being with horses has on humans on our Perfect Partners page.
Nature has the power to fill us with wonder and awe, give us a sense of belonging, and make us more alert. Combined with physical activity, it has tremendous positive effects on our mental health. For example, within just five minutes of “green exercise," as it’s sometimes called, people report major positive changes in their mood and outlook.
If you’re wondering why, just remember that the human brain evolved over a long period of time, most of which humans spent outdoors running, walking, and foraging for food.
Indeed, brain scans show that our default brain state is different outdoors than it is indoors. Indoors, where we now spend an average 93 percent of our time, we’re more likely to engage in rumination, self-criticism, or worry.
But when we’re in nature, our default brain state more closely resembles the calm, disengaged state achieved by experienced meditators. We experience less anxiety, are more aware of our surroundings, and slip into a state researchers call soft fascination.
People who feel connected to nature tend to experience greater life satisfaction, purpose, and happiness. They are also less likely to be depressed and anxious.
All this to say, you'll feel better once you arrive at the farm. You'll feel even better once you've been outside, walk the pastures with the horses, sit in the grass, or lay in the hammock and look up at the trees swaying in the breeze.
Video: Sound therapy at Horse Discovery. Watch and listen as we end a day-long workshop, grounding in the grass, lying in hammock, experiencing the full nature effect. Charlotte Brammer plays the tongue drum.
Research: The Green Gym initiative in the UK makes use of the joy we derive from movement and nature by sending volunteers to do nature-based activities with a social focus, such as planting community gardens. Researchers at the University of Westminster showed that after eight weeks of the program, Green Gym volunteers showed a 20 percent increase in their cortisol awakening response – the hormonal boost that gets us up and going in the morning, and which is often suppressed in depressed people.
Studies on solo and group exercise have reported that greenspace environments enhance a range of psychological outcomes, such as increased positive and decreased negative mood, directed attention, and enjoyment. This suggests that individual environment-level interactions seem likely to promote desirable psychological outcomes despite the varying impacts of social settings.
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Mike Rogerson, 2019