Macquarie teachers use the NatureFix app to show the way.
The most effective learning environment in the university is outdoors.
The research findings are unequivocal.
Spending time in nature has a positive impact on mood (Gilbert, 2016), facilitates physical activity and encourages socialisation (Keskinen, Rantakokko, Suomi, Rantanen, & Portegijs, 2018). Nature-based experiences have direct benefits for health, wellbeing and desire to care for the natural environment (Kuo et al., 2019; Frumkin et al., 2017). Time in nature can improve performance in reading, writing, maths, science and social studies (Chawla 2015; Williams & Dixon 2013; Soboko et al 2020). It also enhances creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and improve attention restoration and focus (Taylor & Kuo 2008; Mårtensson 2009) and promotes motivation to learn (Rios & Brewer 2014).
(Interconnection with nature) reaches beyond simple knowledge transmission of social-ecological interactions traditionally offered at educational institutions… It is not just contact with nature but the nature of the contact that matters most.(Planetary Health Alliance Education Framework, 2021)
How often do you and your students leave the indoor or online classroom?
The Mars Creek Nature-Wellness Trail has been developed by The Connective, a social enterprise that helps rejuvenate communities by creating nature experiences. The trail takes approximately half an hour. It offers a series of ‘nature connection routines’ to help activate the senses, facilitate mindful attention and engage in reflective nature-based activities. There is also a Story of the Day exercise that you can complete as a student/staff group exercise designed to enhance reflection and wellbeing outcomes.
- Engaging senses in nature has well-documented beneficial effects on improving mental restoration, calm and creativity e.g. nature smells and touch stimulate resilience to stress.
- Mimicking nature activities activate body senses that increases our connection and empathy with nature.
- Being near running water and enjoying sunlight increases feelings of relaxation, clears the mind and boosts immunity and metabolism.
- Looking at nature’s patterns helps us to relax and has the same influence on our emotions as listening to classical music!
- Listening to nature sounds restores attention and reduces muscle tension faster and more effectively than listening to urban sounds.
- Looking at nature’s diversity through ‘soft fascination’ reduces stress and increases feelings of relaxation, interest and awe.
- Standing near trees improves immunity. When looking up and out on nature we can expect to enjoy a range of additional neurological benefits.
- Expressing gratitude of nature makes us happier and healthier; improving our immune system, reducing blood pressure, improving sleep and pain management.
I personally came away with an increased appreciation of the incredible power that nature can have on my wellbeing – lowering my stress levels, increasing relaxation. It had a profound effect on me and I would encourage anyone to just try it.”(Medical Student Participant)
Associate Professor Kate Lloyd and Dr Kath McLachlan, along with Waminda Parker and Dr Miles Holmes from The Connective, have been sharing the trail with students through the GEOP2060 Geography and Planning Field School for the past three years.
Associate Professor Peter Davies has also used the trail in his Masters unit ENVS8229 Sustainable Cities. When this class undertook this exercise, those doing the Naturefix trail improved on average their digit span test (testing cognition) by 7.7%, while those that just walked around the green spaces of the campus improved 1.4%. For many students, being able to enjoy the greenery and the natural setting of the campus is one of the features that drew them to Macquarie University. Now, being able to immerse themselves in nature through mindful activities, students can be rewarded through improved wellness and a better learning experience.
It’s more than a learning and teaching campus. It’s a place that actively supercharges student and staff wellbeing!(Kate Lloyd)
During COVID, students were restricted to undertaking field work on campus, or in 2021 their place of residence, which offered a unique opportunity to explore the role of nature connection in increasing/enhancing wellbeing. In collaboration with The Connective, First Nations custodians and Macquarie researchers (urban planners, anthropologists, social ecologists, environmentalists), students have worked on a research project to gather evidence of the benefits of the trail for wellbeing and attention restoration, and undertaken an ethics-approved evaluation before and after their participation with the MQ Living Lab (Nature-Wellness trail).
The Nature-Wellness program allowed me to embrace all natural features that are located in my place of residence. By embracing these features it has given me a greater reflection onto how natural places can be found anywhere, and are significant in the recollection of mental health awareness.(Geography and Planning Student Participant)
Hear from Macquarie students about the positive impacts of the nature-wellness trail:
View the 3 minute video.
An analysis of the 2020/21 evaluation results indicated that the student’s connection with nature (INS nature connectedness score) increased by 30%. Even with an average of 13 minutes three times a week in their home environments students felt: 50 % more relaxed, 36 % happier, 20 % less negative, 31 % more connected and 20% more appreciative of place. The qualitative measures show an almost 100% positive experience. The 2022 trail results testing specifically for attention restoration are still being analysed. However, initial results suggest an increase of between 3.5 – 7.7% in measures for attention restoration.
For me experiencing the wellness trail and how good I’ve been feeling has been amazing. How I felt at the start of the start of the week to now – I feel a lot more relaxed and connected with nature. I would definitely encourage students to come with an open mind to this as I have really felt the benefit.(Geography and Planning Student Participant).
The positive outcomes for students mean that the Nature-Wellness Trail has become an ongoing learning activity, and a team of Macquarie researchers, including Kate and Peter, are part of a broader study exploring engagement with the natural environment and its influence on community (human and environmental) wellbeing. Additionally, the NatureFix trail program includes self-guided survey tools that can be accessed to contribute to the research findings. There are currently three surveys available, testing for a) attention restoration, b) connection and place appreciation, c) changes in mood and vitality.