The Restorative Powers of Rural

If you’re looking to heal heart and soul, head for the countryside, or better yet the seaside. But if restoration is what you’re after, think twice about taking the kids.


Kevin Dooley

A British study says the seashore is the most restorative natural setting. Also near the top of the list are woods and mountains. Urban parks and playing fields ranked lowest for their restorative powers.

Science has verified what the poets have claimed for ages: that first-hand encounters with nature can help calm our emotions and improve our brainpower. Now social scientists in Great Britain say the more rural the natural setting, the more that experience will help recharge our mental and emotional batteries.

The researchers looked at 4,255 responses to a national survey of people who visited natural settings. They investigated what these nature-lovers remembered about their state of mind after the visit — feelings of calmness, relaxation, revitalization or refreshment. From these responses, the researchers ranked the natural settings for their powers of rejuvenation. 

Top on the list are seashores, followed closely by “green-space” settings of forests and mountains.

The least restorative natural settings are urban parks, the study found.

In general, the more natural the setting of woods and mountains, the more restorative the experience was, the study reports.

Researchers also found that the longer people stayed in a natural setting, the more benefit they gained from the experience.

Unfortunately for parents, visiting natural areas with children in tow was less restorative. “While spending time with children may have many benefits, it is not necessarily the most relaxing/restorative activity,” the authors said.

The natural settings that were least restorative were urban playing fields. In England, we suppose that’s the soccer pitch and cricket field — the American equivalents of the gridiron or softball field. 

The study appears in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, and it’s available here