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Vis Medicatrix naturae: does nature "minister to the mind"?

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Biopsychosocial Medicine

BioMed Central

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      Abstract

      The healing power of nature, vis medicatrix naturae, has traditionally been defined as an internal healing response designed to restore health. Almost a century ago, famed biologist Sir John Arthur Thomson provided an additional interpretation of the word nature within the context of vis medicatrix, defining it instead as the natural, non-built external environment. He maintained that the healing power of nature is also that associated with mindful contact with the animate and inanimate natural portions of the outdoor environment. A century on, excessive screen-based media consumption, so-called screen time, may be a driving force in masking awareness of the potential benefits of nature. With global environmental concerns, rapid urban expansion, and mental health disorders at crisis levels, diminished nature contact may not be without consequence to the health of the individual and the planet itself. In the context of emerging research, we will re-examine Sir J. Arthur Thomson's contention that the healing power of the nature-based environment - green space, forests and parks in particular - extends into the realm of mental health and vitality.

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      Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments

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        Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: an observational population study.

        Studies have shown that exposure to the natural environment, or so-called green space, has an independent effect on health and health-related behaviours. We postulated that income-related inequality in health would be less pronounced in populations with greater exposure to green space, since access to such areas can modify pathways through which low socioeconomic position can lead to disease. We classified the population of England at younger than retirement age (n=40 813 236) into groups on the basis of income deprivation and exposure to green space. We obtained individual mortality records (n=366 348) to establish whether the association between income deprivation, all-cause mortality, and cause-specific mortality (circulatory disease, lung cancer, and intentional self-harm) in 2001-05, varied by exposure to green space measured in 2001, with control for potential confounding factors. We used stratified models to identify the nature of this variation. The association between income deprivation and mortality differed significantly across the groups of exposure to green space for mortality from all causes (p<0.0001) and circulatory disease (p=0.0212), but not from lung cancer or intentional self-harm. Health inequalities related to income deprivation in all-cause mortality and mortality from circulatory diseases were lower in populations living in the greenest areas. The incidence rate ratio (IRR) for all-cause mortality for the most income deprived quartile compared with the least deprived was 1.93 (95% CI 1.86-2.01) in the least green areas, whereas it was 1.43 (1.34-1.53) in the most green. For circulatory diseases, the IRR was 2.19 (2.04-2.34) in the least green areas and 1.54 (1.38-1.73) in the most green. There was no effect for causes of death unlikely to be affected by green space, such as lung cancer and intentional self-harm. Populations that are exposed to the greenest environments also have lowest levels of health inequality related to income deprivation. Physical environments that promote good health might be important to reduce socioeconomic health inequalities.
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          The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature.

          We compare the restorative effects on cognitive functioning of interactions with natural versus urban environments. Attention restoration theory (ART) provides an analysis of the kinds of environments that lead to improvements in directed-attention abilities. Nature, which is filled with intriguing stimuli, modestly grabs attention in a bottom-up fashion, allowing top-down directed-attention abilities a chance to replenish. Unlike natural environments, urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures attention dramatically and additionally requires directed attention (e.g., to avoid being hit by a car), making them less restorative. We present two experiments that show that walking in nature or viewing pictures of nature can improve directed-attention abilities as measured with a backwards digit-span task and the Attention Network Task, thus validating attention restoration theory.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ]Genuine Health, 775 East Blithedale Avenue, Suite 364, Mill Valley, CA 94941, USA
            [2 ]Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, 40 Crescent St., Suite 201, Waltham, MA 02453, USA
            Contributors
            Journal
            Biopsychosoc Med
            Biopsychosoc Med
            Biopsychosocial Medicine
            BioMed Central
            1751-0759
            2012
            3 April 2012
            : 6
            : 11
            3353853
            1751-0759-6-11
            22472137
            10.1186/1751-0759-6-11
            Copyright ©2012 Logan and Selhub; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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            Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry

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