February 17, 2022
I saw this lovely fat fellow on a birdwatching walk this past week – my spirits immediately soared when I saw him in all his red-breasted glory against a stunning blue sky! The North American robin is not only popular, but is also an extraordinary bird, because it nests in our big cities as well as in our wilderness environments. In addition, it is one of our most familiar and most loved birds and is a harbinger that spring is on the way.
Did you know that natural environments can help you with addiction recovery and cravings?
Many mental health and treatment professionals associate today’s widespread issues with addiction to a societal disconnection of mind, body, and nature. There have been numerous studies published that demonstrate the multitude of benefits to one’s physical and mental health as a result of exposure to nature. A recent study from the University of Plymouth was the first to find that simply being exposed to ‘green spaces’ from your home can reduce cravings for alcohol, cigarettes and eating disorders. Built upon previous studies examining exercising in nature and reduced cravings, this study indicates that exposure to greenery can reduce cravings regardless of physical activity. Entitled ‘Natural Environments and Craving: The Mediating Role of Negative Affect,’ the study was led by Dr. Leanne Martin. She found that being able to see nature/greenery from home can decrease the strength and frequency of addiction cravings. Dr. Martin conducted the research as part of her master’s degree from Plymouth University’s School of Psychology. The research was also supported by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter.
“It has been known for some time that being outdoors in nature is linked to a person’s wellbeing. But for there to be a similar association with cravings from simply being able to see green spaces adds a new dimension to previous research. This is the first study to explore this idea, and it could have a range of implications for both public health and environmental protection programs in the future.” — Dr. Leanne Martin
Many researchers are using these findings to promote environmental protection policies and encourage communities to invest in green spaces to help maximize public health benefits and increase productivity amongst those working in large and otherwise stark urban areas. For example, policies regarding the protection of green areas and forests have taken off in Japan. Japan is known for having stressful work conditions. Many blame the country’s high suicide rates (they have the highest suicide rates in the developed world) on this. The practice of ‘shinrin-yoku’ or ‘forest bathing’ is a type of therapy sponsored by Japan’s Forestry Agency to address the country’s mental health stigma. They have put millions of dollars into forest therapy research. It has been found that being in nature can relieve stress and increase productivity. This is understood by measuring participants’ blood pressure and their number of NK cells or ‘natural killer’ cells in a participant’s body. NK cells are a white blood cells which help prevent viral infections and reject tumor and cancer cells.
Exposure To Greenery Alleviates Cravings
The Plymouth University Study specifically measured the proportion of green space in an individual’s residential neighborhood, the presence of green views from one’s home, access to a garden or park, the frequency of use of these public spaces, and other aspects regarding one’s access and exposure to green spaces. Participants completed a survey identifying the relationships between reported nature exposure and their cravings of alcohol, cigarettes, and unhealthy foods. Access to nature was associated with a decrease in craving strength and frequency. Additionally, residential views consisting of 25% or more green space produced similar responses. They also found that these reduced cravings occurred regardless of one’s physical activity levels. Craving contributes to a variety of health-damaging behaviors such as smoking, excessive drinking and unhealthy eating. In turn, these can contribute to some of the greatest global health challenges of our time, including cancer, obesity and diabetes. Showing that lower cravings are linked to more exposure to green spaces is a promising first step.
I think we all look forward to seeing and hearing our first robin of Spring. It’s clear, cheery, musical whistles are a delight. The North American robin buoys our spirits and tells us that new growth and warmer weather is on its way. It is indeed a harbinger of spring, but it is also a most welcome sight in winter! Let nature be your guide to a life of freedom.
May Your Anchor Hold