The health benefits of contact with nature
There is strong evidence that supports the idea that contact with nature, through viewing or being in landscapes with vegetation, water and other natural features, relieves stress and provides human health benefits. It makes sense that providing patients and clients with easy access to gardens and natural open space within (or very close to) the grounds of hospitals and community health centres can assist in rehabilitation and contribute to the overall wellbeing of clients and staff alike.
In keeping with this evidence, an early parenting service in Melbourne developed a new children’s sensory garden for use by families, staff and visitors at one of their locations. Dr Claire Henderson-Wilson and Dr Amy Shaw of the Health Nature and Sustainability Research Group at Deakin University collaborated with the centre on a study evaluating the use and benefits of this new therapeutic garden, gathering evidence which will be both useful and applicable to other healthcare settings.
Nineteen staff and thirty-six parents completed surveys relating to their experiences in the new garden, and some were interviewed. The results suggest that the new sensory garden is highly valued by families and staff alike. Staff and parents reported that on a personal level, spending time in the new garden makes them feel happier and less stressed. The majority of staff indicated that they believed the new gardens afforded families numerous benefits such as improving their learning opportunities, and improving their demeanour (e.g. appearing less agitated, calmer, and more relaxed). These results were mirrored by parents, who also felt that the garden provided these benefits to a similar extent. This synergy between the responses of staff and parents indicate that staff members have been able to adequately assess the perceived benefits of the new garden.
The benefits to both staff and families reflected in this report provides support for the further development of new gardens at this centre as well as the development of similar sensory gardens in other healthcare settings.
The Health Nature and Sustainability Group, within the School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University, works closely with a number of environment and sustainability organisations to undertake research, engage in partnerships, share expertise and conduct projects. This research and engagement helps inform our postgraduate coursework programs in health sciences, health promotion, health economics and public health.
The positive health effects of engaging with nature go hand in hand with how we manage that engagement in a sustainable way. Through exposure to learning in systems thinking, environmental and urban planning, environmental justice and policy and planning for the future, Deakin’s students are given the opportunity to assist in the development of resilient and sustainable communities of the future — communities where engagement with the natural environment is seen as a vital element in health and wellbeing.
To find out more about postgraduate courses in health and sustainability, go to http://www.deakin.edu.au/courses/find-a-course/health-sciences-and-allied-health/health-and-sustainability.
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