Enjoying Nature May Reduce Inflammation

A a small jetty protrudes into the still waters on a summer afternoon, allowing an older man to enjoy the relaxing ambience within the tree lined oasis of a small market town.
iStock.com/Neil Bussey

Research increasingly shows that contact with nature can have positive effects on mental and physical health, such as increasing positive emotions, or reducing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, few studies have linked nature engagement to specific biological processes that might explain these health benefits. Additionally, much of the research about nature connection has been done outside the US, raising questions of whether results apply in the American cultural context. To address these issues, this study looked at nature engagement in a nationally representative sample of over 1200 US adults from MIDUS 2, to see how it affects inflammation, which is associated with numerous aging-related diseases.

Nature engagement was measured by how often in the last month (never, 1-6, or 7+ times) participants reported that they:

    • appreciated nature
    • breathed clean air
    • saw beautiful scenery.

Unlike other studies, researchers also assessed the quality of the nature experience, with participants indicating if it was:

    • neutral or unpleasant
    • somewhat pleasant
    • very pleasant.

Blood samples were taken to measure inflammation via levels of IL-6, CRP, and fibrinogen. High levels of these proteins indicate the presence of the systemic inflammation that is associated with chronic diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.

Results showed that:

    • People who reported more frequent pleasant encounters with nature had lower levels of inflammation.
    • Further analysis showed that this association was only significant for CRP.

These results align with theories indicating that contact with nature can reduce stress and promote positive emotions, and that these positive psychological states can lower inflammation. They suggest that future interventions or public policies that encourage taking the time to enjoy nature may significantly improve health. More research is needed to confirm these findings and to investigate factors that promote or inhibit connections with nature.

Source: Ong, A. D., Cintron, D. W., & Fuligni, G. L. (2024). Engagement with nature and proinflammatory biology. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 119, 51-55. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2024.03.043


Read the full article at: http://www.midus.wisc.edu/findings/pdfs/2824.pdf