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Eve Sanders, @eveasanders

For many of us this time is difficult. It’s scary and uncertain, but together we can get through it, with the help of the natural world.

By now I’m sure most of us have heard of the ‘blue (water) and green (plants) mind’ concepts, whereby we are starting to recognise and further research the benefits of nature to both our mental and physical wellbeing.

This concept, however, is not a new one. Over 2500 years ago, Cyrus the Great built gardens in the capital of Persia for relaxation. Fast forward a couple of thousand years and the notion that nature has healing and relaxation powers was backed up when the 16th-century German-Swiss physician, Paracelsus, wrote, “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.” Later still, it was the American writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Muir, along with the architect Fredrick Law Olmsted (the man who designed Central Park in New York City) that built the spiritual and emotional case for creating the world’s first national parks - by stating that nature had healing powers.

Although the proof is out there that relaxation in nature is a theory that has been around for thousands of years, back then the scientific evidence was non-existent. Large-scale modern life problems such as obesity, poor mental health and a busier and more stressful lifestyle has spurred on scientists into researching how nature affects the human brain and body.

Just a 15-minute walk through a woodland has been shown to cause measurable difference in physiology. Japanese researchers from the Chiba University sent 84 people into seven different woods for a stroll, while the same number of volunteers were sent to walk around the city centres. The people who walked through the woodlands showed a 16% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2% drop in blood pressure and a 4% drop in pulse rate!

Many people also find solace in going for a walk along the river or beach and claim that the water has a relaxing, meditative effect on them, but the benefits of being close to water has only been better understood in the last 10 years. A multitude of studies by neuroscientists have now shown that water reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone), slows our breathing and heart rate, and gently moves our minds into a meditative mood. So, when you’re next taking a stroll along a gently trickling stream or a fast-flowing river, remember that science has proven this to have a relaxing effect on you!

In fact, in 2019 a TEP partner, the Marine CoLABoration, created a campaign for Mental Health Awareness week called Sound Waves, which promoted a soundtrack of crashing waves to spread awareness of the benefits of listening to the sounds of the ocean. Their studies showed that even if you’re nowhere near the ocean, just listening to the track (or any natural sounds) can lead to a 37% faster recovery from a stressful situation. Patients recovering from painful procedures reported a perceived reduction in pain after listening to the track. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, you can benefit from listening to the sounds of the sea.

The River Thames can be a positive resource for us all during this difficult time. In a recent study with #OneLess and Thames 21, people were asked how the River Thames makes them feel and results were collated in the word cloud below. More results from this survey will follow shortly.

If you’re near the River Thames, don’t forget to visit the river for your daily dose of relaxation, exercise and wildlife watching. For more information on walking routes click here.

Keep your eye out tomorrow for our brand-new #TalkoftheThames podcast exploring our relationships with our coasts!


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