Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Blood Pressure ... and Nature Walks?

Are you on blood pressure medication? Bet your doctor didn’t tell you to take daily walks in the forest. She did probably tell you to lower your stress levels, but this conversation was most likely focused on your work, perhaps how much you are working, and identifying other areas of stress in your life. And maybe you are now taking daily walks outside, but down the busy street during your lunch-time break.

Ever stop to wonder about the effects of an urban versus a nature walk? How about how the view from your office window might affect your blood pressure? Then you might be interested in two experiments by Terry Hartig’s research team.

Experiment 1
1) The researchers tested participants while sitting either in a room with a view of trees or a room with no window. 

Results: Blood pressure decreased for the people in the room with the view, but increased for those in the room with no window. 

Experiment 2
2) They took research participants walking, in either a nature reserve or a medium-density housing development.

Results: The participants who walked in the nature reserve experienced a decrease in blood pressure and reported a decline in feelings of anger and aggression, while those who walked in the urban setting experienced an increase in all three areas (including blood pressure).
The bottom line
Exercise is considered important for lowering your blood pressure, and the associated stress emotions. However, you might want to where you exercise. It might make a world of difference!

Hartig, T., Evans, G. W., Jamner, L. D., Davis, D. S., and Gärling, T. (2003). Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23(2), 109-123.


  1. This research is so interesting. My work building is currently undergoing renovation. I wonder if they've even considered the environmental impacts on human health in the planning. It really speaks to the importance of doctors knowing this kind of research and being able to 'prescribe' this kind of remedy to their patients and support and encourage them in achieving doing it. Big Pharma won't like it. It also speaks to the importance of employers valuing the kind of environments they are providing for workers, and the kinds of environments children have at school (as you wrote about so compellingly below).

  2. I agree, Jackie, that it is very important for doctors to know about this research. Of course, spending time in nature (vs. urban) settings is not a panacea, but in my opinion, it should (and will in my life) always be the first course of action. A child diagnosed with ADHD? Try changing his or her play setting for a month and get outdoors as much as possible, and see what happens.

    In Europe, many doctors *are* becoming more aware of this research. There is a growing "green care" movement in which doctors, psychiatrists, social workers and other therapists are able to prescribe for their patients to work on a farm, or to spend time in other nature facilitated programs, either as an alternative to or in addition to medication and talk therapy. Perhaps my next post will be about this.