The Benefits of Nature While Indoors

Research has given the green light to the benefits of getting outdoors to stimulate your body’s natural resources toward maintaining good health, both physical and mental. Most of us believe that means going for a walk or engaging in some outdoor exercise, but that may not be necessary, especially when it might be impossible.

Think of anyone who is confined to a bed or a wheelchair or immobilized in any other manner manner. What about them? Can they still, somehow, benefit from “being outdoors” as we’ve been told? Turns out there may be a way for ALL of us and it’s just been somewhat confirmed by the Salk Institute. Although somewhat technical and aimed at deriving algorithmic models of vision, there seems to be something else in its potential for studying how brain neurons react to scenes.

Year ago, I was invited to a demonstration of a new visual system for helping to initiate relaxation in people who were highly stressed or, in fact, in children in school who might benefit from it. Three large screens were set up; one directly in front of me and an associate and one to the left and one to the right. Together they formed a somewhat crude panorama, but not of one scene. The scenes were photographs of scenes in nature; sky, forests, fields.

As we sat in the darkened room and watched the screen slowly dissolve and then bring up a new pastoral scene, nothing seems to be happening. But what was happening was that we were slowly being immersed into the landscape without knowing it. Somewhat, the room we were in was no longer a room. We were in a forest or a field and it was totally complete.

At the end of the demonstration, I turned to my associate (who is now in children’s software production) and asked if he “smelled” the pine trees. He looked at me and responded in the negative, but I had definitely smelled pine. The man who provided the demonstration swore that he didn’t produce any chemicals in the room and no odors resulted, but I SMELLED PINE. So, what was that?

Yes, being outdoors is good for you for all the reasons many articles use to try to motivate you, but they seem to be missing one point. The point they miss is that there’s an emotional piece that has nothing to do with exercise, or sunlight or just getting out. Finding which neurons fire and writing an algorithm for it is a speck in a universe of possibilities.

I know that research and science progress by often tiny steps and it is left to us to be the dreamers regarding how this might be extended or where the research is missing something important. Biologists and neuroscientists may hone in on bits of brain structures or neuronal connections or electrical impulses, but where is the more human piece, the emotion?

Meditation is getting a huge push as something for all of us to consider as a natural means of reducing stress, but that utilizes only two things, sitting still and breathing in a pres

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cribed manner. People in wheelchairs sit still much of the time and they may be experiencing a type of overload that we aren’t recognizing. I’m speaking about constantly having to concentrate on life’s necessities. Now you ask them to toss that all away and just sit and “be in the moment” as it were. But you’re still there and, usually, your eyes are closed.

Why aren’t we taking better advantage of the visual component available to all of us? Exercise bikesuse small digital screens to provide scenes of racing through the countryside, so why aren’t we using this for just plain stress relief for the disabled. And, since I view it as a form of therapy, why wouldn’t it be paid for by insurance since it must have a health-enhancing benefit?

Okay, where’s the research to support that since insurance doesn’t pay for unproven methods of treatment? Go get a grant, do the research and begin to give these individuals some relief. Am I asking for too much? How would you feel if you couldn’t feel the sun on your face no matter how much you wanted it?

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I recall an elderly woman, who was confined to her home, saying to me, “I’d just like to go to the beach and put my feet in the water. That’s all. Just put my feet into the water.” Does that reach you? It did reach me because that was my mother who had a terminal illness.

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Dr. Farrell is a psychologist, WebMD consultant, SAG/AFTRA member, author, interested in film, writing & health. Website:

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