5 ways green action can boost your health and wellbeing

Looking to improve your mental and physical health? Turns out being kind to Mother Nature can help yourself AND the planet.

We all know looking after the planet is important – but did you know taking simple sustainable actions can also improve your physical and mental wellbeing?

University of Melbourne environmental psychology professor Kathryn Williams says the planet and our health are closely connected.

“You can’t separate our wellness from the wellness of the earth,” Prof Williams says.

Here are 5 simple steps to help Mother Earth and your health.

Get amongst nature

Humans are “hard-wired” to connect with nature, according to Deakin University Health Nature Sustainability researcher Dr Rebecca Patrick.

“It’s called the biophilia hypothesis which basically means humans need, on a physiological and psychological level, to connect with the natural world,” Dr Patrick says.

She says if we do not get enough exposure to the natural world such as visiting parks, forests and beaches, we may risk nature deficit disorder.

Dr Patrick says exposure to the natural environment has many benefits such as being cognitively restorative and reducing stress.

Researchers have found spending two hours a week outdoors in nature is linked to better health and wellbeing.

Prof Williams has researched why spending time outside makes us feel better.

“There’s increasing evidence that it actually changes us physiologically, in a sense of slowing down our heartbeat, helping us to balance our sense of alertness and feeling less stressed,” Prof Williams says.

“We are able to concentrate better and make better decisions; we’re even more likely to help other people if we spend time in natural environments.”

Volunteer or join a group

Dr Patrick says taking action on climate change is not only good for the environment, but is also great for your health and wellbeing.

“Thinking about climate change can be quite overwhelming, but we’ve found when you take even a small step, it starts to relieve you of some of those worries, it can make you feel like you’re making a difference,” Dr Patrick says.

So consider signing up with your local environmental volunteering group or climate action group.

Our research shows that environmental volunteering can promote mental health, reduce social isolation and provide opportunities to learn more about your local environment,” Dr Patrick says.

“If you are volunteering, like tree planting, you’re not only getting physical activity, you’re getting all the benefits of fresh air, the sights and smells of nature, which really promotes good health on so many levels.”

Be a keyboard warrior

If you are time poor, consider becoming a couch climate change activist.

Dr Patrick says with so many climate action groups online, there are plenty of ways to help the planet from your laptop including joining groups, signing petitions and donating.

“Not everyone wants to walk around with a placard and demonstrate, that’s okay, find your meaningful action,” Dr Patrick says.

Get on your bike

Jumping on your bike instead of into the car can help reduce air pollution.

Plus you get to enjoy health benefits and save money on parking.

Prof Williams rides her bike almost everywhere.

“It’s the most fun, convenient way to get around, and I’ve got a supportive network for cycling where I live,” Prof Williams says.

“It also builds my sense of relatedness, because I connect to a community of other people.

“You’re more likely to have those incidental conversations when you’re cycling, that you would never have in a car.”

Buy less stuff

Prof Williams says an easy way to help the planet is by being mindful about what you buy.

She says when people feel lonely, unwell, unappreciated or disappointed, they often try to fill those bad feelings with ‘stuff’.

But retail therapy is not as harmless as you may think.

Every year, Australians buy around 27 kilos of new clothing and chuck out 23 kilos each year.

Prof Williams recommends trying more fulfilling activities.

“We can spend time with a friend, we can connect with the actual world, or with local bushland near us,” Prof Williams says.

Written by Bianca Carmona.