Health measurements - Background

Last changed: 24 January 2023
Person walking in birch forest

We know both from our own experiences in nature and research that nature has health-promoting effects. We have all experienced well-being and positive feelings from staying in nature, we often feel calm and removed from the other actions and obligations. Nature can also fascinate, arouse interest and instil a sense of belonging, connection and space.

Research in the field of environmental psychology has focused heavily on nature's ability to facilitate recovery and restore physiological, psychological and emotional resources.

There are several theories that explain how nature affects us. The best known are described below.

  • "Psycho-evolutionary Theory" and "Stress reduction Theory"
    These theories were developed by Roger Ulrich and have their foundation in evolution and the biophilia hypothesis, which suggests that man has an innate tendency to enjoy and feel good in nature. Ulrich also integrates modern clinical psychology and behavioural medicine into his theories. He describes how our experience of the environment is engendered through affections (innate feelings), which lead to physiological reactions, thoughts and actions that are important to our survival and well-being. Environmental properties also provoke an aesthetic response. We relax, experience harmony and facilitate recovery. Ulrich also points out that our acquired experiences, for example, our experience of nature in childhood, have significance for our reactions, thoughts and behaviour in nature.
  • ART – ‘Attention Restoration Theory’
    This theory was developed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan and focuses on our cognitive and mental resources. The theory describes how different types of attention are used in work/problem solving and when staying in nature. We use everyday self-control and focused attention to solve different tasks. This attention is energy-intensive and fatiguing. In nature, however, we use more spontaneous attention that promotes recovery, restores our cognitive abilities and brings us peace. The fact that recovery happens means that nature has so-called restorative properties, i.e. the ability to restore and strengthen us. ART identifies four key components for nature-based recovery – 1/ an experience of “getting away from everyday concerns”, 2/ fascination, 3/ experience of completeness/wholeness, and 4/ compatibility or affinity, i.e. nature can fulfil my needs and wishes. 

Health-promoting nature environments in which we usually feel good are characterised by views, protection, green vegetation, water, aesthetics, order and harmony, and fascination. The theories described above complement each other and together provide a good basis for understanding the positive effect of nature on humans.

/Text: Lisbeth Slunga-Järvholm