Research has found a worrying correlation between increased urbanisation and increased mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. But for those of us who live in towns and cities - more than half the human population - there appears to be an antidote: nature.
Researchers theorise that nature is part of our evolution and that we have an innate connection to it. They also believe that because urban environments demand our attention in ways different to that of nature, cities can affect us negatively.
The research that has been done to date suggests that nature can have a raft of benefits, and there is now a growing following for ecotherapy, which describes health treatment programmes that involve getting outdoors.
So why might you want to step away from the computer and go smell the roses?
1. Nature lowers depression and improves mood
Studies show that walking in nature can change the brain in ways that walking down a busy road doesn't do. It was found that this simple act of walking in nature boosts mood and could lead to a lower risk of depression. Indeed, a survey found that 94% of people with mental illnesses believed they were more positive when in contact with nature. It is also believed that the physical activity often involved with getting outdoors and the increase in vitamin D from sunlight also helps lower depression and improve mood.
2. Being outdoors in nature improves brain power
Studies suggest that walking in nature, and even just looking at nature views out the window, can improve attention, concentration, memory and mental fatigue; thereby improving performance of certain types of cognitive tasks. The theory goes that there is less stimulation and information to process when enjoying nature compared with an urban environment.
3. Nature decreases stress and anxiety
Nature also appears to have a calming affect, with studies showing it can reduce heart rate and other physiological indicators of stress, as well as reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. In addition, anxiety and rumination were seen to decrease with exposure to nature experiences.
4. Nature improves wellbeing and life satisfaction
Wellbeing and life satisfaction have been found to improve after exposure to nature because of the almost "spiritual" connection with it. By being in nature, the connection with it strengthens, producing feelings of awe, which can aid mindfulness and generate a sense of purpose. Exposure was also found to increase more active nature behaviours such as gardening.
5. Nature improves health conditions
There is more to nature than just improving mental health. Research also shows physical health can be boosted. Exercise and improved fitness and energy levels - from active activities in nature - are beneficial to our health. But research also suggests that exposure to nature can improve the symptoms of various conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), high blood pressure, and respiratory and cardiovascular disease, while also reducing the physiological effects of stress.
Katrina Megget is the former editor of PharmaTimes Magazine and has written about healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry for more than eight years. Katrina is now a freelance writer, specialising in healthcare and science, but also dabbles in adventure travel writing and has the ambitious aim of climbing 40 volcanoes by the age of 40. Visit her blog or follow Katrina on twitter: @katrinamegget