There are quite a few science-backed health benefits to getting a daily dose of nature. Taking a walk in the woods (a Japanese custom called “forest bathing”) has been shown to lower stress levels and boost well-being, while gardening has been linked to a number of physical and mental health benefits.
Now, a new study finds that bird watching can have a positive effect on mental health. Researchers in Great Britain found that people who can watch birds from their homes have a lower risk for depression, stress, and anxiety compared to people who live in less leafy areas with fewer birds.
The researchers also found that people reported higher levels of depression and anxiety when they had to spend more time indoors than usual in the previous week.
"This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being,” said lead researcher Dr. Daniel Cox from the University of Exeter. “Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live."
Compared with those who lived in areas with limited bird activity, participants who resided in neighborhoods where they could see birds and greenery around their home were found to have lower levels of stress and depression.
Having the ability to watch birds in the afternoon, specifically, was found to have the greatest stress-reducing effect. Afternoon bird numbers were studied because they are typically lower, the researchers say, which is more in line with the number of birds that people are likely to see in their neighborhood on a daily basis.
Several common types of birds -- including robins, crows, and others -- were included in the study. However, the researchers did not find a correlation between bird species and mental health.
Instead, it was the number of birds that mattered. Watching birds of any species was found to help people relax and feel more connected to nature.