Nature-Health Relationships

Much of the evidence for the benefits of biophilia can be linked to one of three overarching mind-body systems: cognitive, psychological, physiological.  Laboratory and field studies help explain how people’s health and well-being are impacted by their environment. We outline these mind-body systems here in the briefest sense.  Further exploration shows the effect of biophilic design strategies on hormones, neurotransmitters, and environmental stressors.

Cognitive Performance

Cognitive functioning encompasses our mental agility and memory, and our ability to think and learn. For instance, directed attention is required for many repetitive tasks, as well as for operating in highly stimulating environments.  Directed attention is energy intensive, and over time can result in mental fatigue.

Strong connections with nature can provide opportunities for mental restoration, during which time our higher cognitive functions can take a break.  Someone with a well rested mind can perform focused tasks better than someone with fatigued cognitive resources.

Psychological Well-being

Psychological responses include our alertness, attention, concentration, adaptability, and emotion and mood. This includes responses to nature that impact rest and stress management. For instance, empirical studies have shown that experiences of natural environments provide greater emotional restoration, with lower instances of tension, anxiety, anger, fatigue, confusion and total mood disturbance than urban environments with limited characteristics of nature.

Physiological Health and Well-being

Physiological responses encompass our aural, musculoskeletal, respiratory, circadian systems and overall physical comfort.  Physiological responses triggered by connections with nature include relaxation of muscles, as well as lowering of diastolic blood pressure and stress hormone (i.e., cortisol) levels in the blood stream.  Short term stress that increases heart rate and stress hormone levels, such as from encountering an unknown but complex and information-rich environment, is suggested to be beneficial to regulating physiological health.

Our physiological system needs to be tested regularly, but only enough for the body to remain resilient and adaptive. Physiological responses to environmental stressors can be buffered with biophilic design, allowing for the restoration of the body before system damage occurs