Welcome, Sophie. Hello. Thank you very much for inviting me. So what I'd like to do is I'd like to start with a question If you're really honest with yourself, how much time do you spend in front of the screen each day?
Perhaps you wake up, have a quick scroll through social media as you start your day, log on for a day's work or study, catch up with friends, messaging, or look at the news once you're done for the day.
And then maybe settle down for a movie or an evening of gaming.
Nowadays, we are all almost certainly spending more of our time than is good for us looking at a tablet or the TV or doing stuff on our laptops or glued to our phones. And it all adds up a national survey of UK adults.
Showed that screen use that increased during lockdown hasn't gone back down again. 1 study from 20 20 found that half of UK adults reported looking at a screen for 11 hours or more a day. 11 hours a day.
And in 20 21 another said that the average daily use for mobile phones, just mobile phones, was 4 hours a day. So you might not think that there's a problem here, but trust me when I say I think you probably need to get out more.
By that, I mean, you should spend more time outside in the natural environment. I appreciate that right now, short days and cold icy weather's gonna make it a hard out, but let's just see if I can persuade you.
So most of us kind of know that being in nature makes feel a little bit better in some way, and there's plenty of research to back that up.
Over the next 10 minutes or so, I'm gonna share reasons why focusing on 3 areas: creativity, memory and attention, and mood and well-being.
So let's start with the impact of nature on your creativity. Where is it that you have your best ideas? Just think about that for a sec. I'm guessing it's not when you've been sat in front of a screen for hours on end.
Getting out into nature more can help your imagination, your ingenuity, your innovation, and your inspiration. Creativity is not just about what artists and writers and musicians and people like though them create.
As you can imagine, creative thinking is part of all possible jobs and situations. Creativity itself is made up of preparation, incubation, ideas, and evaluation.
And there's evidence that being in nature particularly helps the preparation and incubation stages. People who spent 4 days in nature showed a 50 percent improvement in their creativity.
The researchers thought this was probably a combination of not having access to technology and the natural environment leading to more positive emotions. So I'm sure right now some of you are thinking 4 days, 4 days outside.
There's brainwave evidence that spending just 25 minutes outside can lead to improvements in creativity. So when the prefrontal cortex part of the brain is calmed down, flashes of insight come to us.
It's as if there's an imagination network that kicks in when we're doing something relaxing, like sitting watching the birds or walking in a wood or a park. And it's this that's thought to be where we get our creative thoughts from.
Nature tends to make us more curious and able to get new ideas as well as be flexible in our way of king. So another aspect of our brains that can be improved by getting at war is our memory and our attention.
So working memory is a term that's used by psychologists. It's basically a form of short term memory that's used to do specific things.
It manages and uses our short term memories, and it helps with planning and understanding and reasoning and problem solving, and all these things can be measured.
In 1 study, students were given a memory test and then divided into 2 groups.
1 walked around at arboretum. Basically a tree zoo. And the other walked down a city street, and those who'd been in the woods had significantly improved memory and brain function.
There's even evidence that if you spend an hour walking in nature, your memory span can increase by 20 percent.
It's not just that though. Nature can help with our focus too. Essentially, there's just too much vying for our attention nowadays. And that works against how we've evolved. We're just not cut out to be switched on all the time.
This constant stimulation impacts the brain and that can lead to attention fatigue. Attention fatigue is not a good thing. You make bad decisions. You can be irritable. You can miss social cues.
You can be restless or confused or forgetful. And that's not all impaired judgment recklessness and inability to plan, poor or quality thinking, are all things that can happen if you focus on doing 1 thing for too long.
Ultimately, if you can't see the wood for the trees, you need to get out and actually look at the trees. What you might be thinking now is that being out in nature provides constant stimulation for our brains as well.
And you're not wrong. It's just that the way in which the brain engages with nature turns out to be effortless in terms of our attention.
The upshot is that exposure to natural surroundings can improve focus and attention and help dispel brain fog by reducing mental fatigue or stress.
There's even research on children with ADHD that shows being in nature can reduce their symptoms. And a walk outside can have similar effects even when the weather's rubbish.
1 American researcher said, and I quote, people don't have to enjoy the walk to get the benefits. We found the same benefits when it was 80 degrees and sunny over the summer as when the temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in January.
The only difference was that participants enjoyed the walks more in the spring and summer than in the dead of winter. To be honest, I'd rather walk in the cold, but I expect.
I'm not normal in that. 1 of the other really cool things is that it's been shown you can reap the improvements to memory and attention just by looking at pictures of nature for 6 minutes, if that's your only option.
1 study showed improved attention after only looking at 1 for 40 seconds. But just to be clear, you can't take your phone or another screen and simply look at that while your outdoors, it's just not gonna have the same effect.
The final benefit of nature I want to talk about, and it's a biggie, is the positive effect on mood and well-being. So despite all the amazing technology that we have nowadays, humans still have a deep connection with nature.
And the more we nourish that bond, the better we feel. And if we don't, we can end up with nature deficit disorder, which is a set of mental health and physical symptoms that are either caused or made worse by a lack of time outdoors.
These can include depression, ADHD, obesity and anxiety. And 1 study showed that watching TV and computer use can actually predict depression level amongst adults.
There's even evidence that associates more screen time with a loss of empathy and a lack of altruism, which basically means you'll be a better person if you get outside more.
Nature can activate the part of the brain associated with emotions, with empathy, and self awareness.
And exposure to plants has been shown to suppress the sympathetic nervous system, so that leads to lower cortisol and a lower heart rate.
It basically relaxes you. A daily walk outside in nature can be as effective as taking an antidepressant in some cases of mild depression, and it can also reduce anxiety.
And if you're prone to overthinking or worrying, getting outside into a green space might be just what you need, and 90 minute walk in nature lowers activity in the part of the brain that's linked to negative overthinking.
So when I'm feeling stressed, I try and grab my walking shoes and get outside. And almost every time, I found myself down by the river even though I didn't plan a route.
And every time I come home, I feel better able to cope. Whether that's with the tricky conversation or focused work or even just switching off from what's going on and having a break.
We all have a deep human need to feel connected. There are studies that show being in nature can build a sense of belonging to the wider world that's vital for good mental health and well-being.
We're incredibly technologically connected nowadays, but in some cases, our relationships are the poorer for that.
Something else I've not even touched on is that there's also loads of evidence that being outside, walking and talking has a big impact on the quality of conversation and it can lead to better personal relationships.
Particularly in the west, we're often isolated in a way that's simply not part of our revolutionary makeup.
And just maybe when you're feeling a bit lost, wondering what life's all about, A dose of ore might just remind you how wondrous the world is, trees that were around centuries before you, and that will endure beyond your lifetime or an infinite sky full of stars can help remind you that we're a tiny, part of an incredible, wonderful, and glorious universe.
And what could be more as inspirational than that? So I've talked about how getting outside can improve your creativity, your memory, your attention, your mood, and your well-being.
In case you were wondering, that doesn't need to involve exercise. Just being outside in a natural environment can have the same effect.
And by natural, I don't just mean green spaces. There's evidence that blue spaces, water like the sea or a lake, can have similar effects. And it's not about what you can see either. Natural sounds can also be good for you.
So when I can't get out, I use noises dot online, which is a web site that lets you build your own natural sandscape so that I can hear the breeze in the trees and a crackling log fire and some birdsong.
So many benefits, so many reasons to get outside into nature.
Have I persuaded you yet? To help you get started, I want to end with some top tips from the Mental Health Foundation about how you might get more nature into your life. So the first of these is to find nature wherever you are.
Nature's all around us. Even and even in cities, there are parks or river banks or trees try and look out for the unexpected, like a fox if you're on your way home in the early hours or if you're heading out to work before sunrise.
Pay attention to changes in the weather or birdsong outside your window. The key is to try and notice nature wherever you are in a way that's meaningful to you. Secondly, use all of your senses.
What can you hear or smell? Can you feel the wind on your face? When you're outside, try to mindfully focus on what your senses are perceiving. All the goodness of nature can help you to find a sense of calm and joy.
And get out more. As you've heard, most people don't get out enough. It doesn't matter if you visit green spaces like parks or woodlands or gardens, or blue spaces like rivers or the beach, both can help lift your mood.
Feel better about things and work or study more effectively. You can always go with a friend or a relative if going on your own feels a bit much. The next suggestion is bringing nature to you when you can't get out to it.
So something as simple as having plants in the house is a great way to have something natural to see or touch or smell. Pots of herbs from the supermarket are cheap, and a really good start.
When I was a student, I had significant mental health problems, and I ended up with a splendid collection of houseplants. Caring for them, even when I struggled to care for myself, made me feel better.
You can grow flowers, plants, or vegetables on a window sill or in a pot outside. Or even get a bird feeder and see who comes to visit. An alternative is to connect with nature through art or stories or TV programs.
The fifth 1 is another really great idea is to take exercise in nature. So if you can exercise think about how you might do that outside. Could be a run. Could be a bike ride. Could be a short walk.
Walking or running outdoors in nature can sometimes help to prevent or reduce feelings of anger or tiredness or sadness. So is there a change to your usual route that you could take that might take you into blue or green spaces more?
And if you're not in a city, How about leaving your headphones off for a change so you can hear the sounds around you. The next 1 is to convey nature with creativity. I've already said that nature increases your creativity anyway.
This doesn't have to mean dancing outside or making art outside. It could be taking photos. Or drawing pictures of natural things. So by noticing the natural world, you'll strengthen your connection to it.
And finally protect nature. As I learned with my houseplant collection, taking care of something can be a really great way to feel good. This one's really win win.
Whether you choose to walk instead of driving or to recycle what you can or you join a conservation group, taking care of nature, also means that you're taking care of yourself and you'll be improving your creativity and your attention and your memory.
There's nothing not to like about that. I hope I've given you a few ideas around taking your thinking outside more. So why not give it a try yourself? And see how you get on. Thank you.