Nurtured by nature


The state-of-the-art UoRM campus located at EduCity, Iskandar Puteri in Johor Baru.

MOST people can relate to the feelings of relaxation and revitalisation experienced by spending time in nature.

But, the benefits of interacting with nature are far more widespread than mere rest and relaxation.

There is compelling evidence that exposure to nature has significant benefits for physical health, such as reduced blood pressure, muscle tension and heart rate.

Furthermore, it contributes to improved psychological well-being by lowering stress levels, increasing positive emotions and enhancing productivity.

Interestingly, the benefits of nature exposure have also been shown to extend to cognitive health – whereby optimal functioning of cognitive abilities such as memory, attention, language, problem-solving and decision-making are achieved.

However, with the advent of urbanisation, an increasing portion of our lives are spent either indoors or in man-made built environments.

Add to that our increasing reliance on technological devices – urban residents are in dire need of a “nature intervention”.

Even if we intend to have weekly nature breaks, not everyone has the time and energy for weekend getaways at our national parks or even a hike in any one of our nation’s beautiful hiking trails.

On the upside, psychological literature has shown that a mere 20-minute walk in an area with lush greenery is more than enough to elicit the many health and mental well-being benefits of nature.

Arguably, in the hustle and bustle of modern living, getting the opportunity to spend time or exercise in a nearby park can also be challenging.

The good news is that several researchers from the University of Michigan have found that virtual and man-made nature elements can also benefit cognitive abilities.

The University of Reading UK's state-of-the-art library is a mere 30-minutes away from London.The University of Reading UK's state-of-the-art library is a mere 30-minutes away from London.

Their findings suggest that there are other accessible alternatives to experiencing the positive effects of nature without necessarily having to visit a physical outdoor space.

For example, cultivating a home garden, incorporating plants into your living space, ensuring window views encompass natural surroundings, utilising screensavers featuring images of nature, integrating ambient nature sounds into your environment or even taking mental breaks by immersing yourself in nature videos, can all contribute to reaping the cognitive rewards associated with nature, even when direct access to outdoor green spaces is limited.

Researchers are now also trying to determine what types of natural environments are best because while interacting with nature in any form is good for us, nature is more than just green spaces.

In fact, emerging evidence suggests that blue spaces – such as fountains, lakes, rivers and coastal lines – are just as beneficial for health and well-being, if not more.

On the grounds of this premise, University of Reading Malaysia’s (UoRM) Dr Shumetha Sidhu has been looking into whether different types of nature landscapes have differential effects on cognition – specifically in the areas of attention, memory (the ability to suppress irrelevant or distracting information to focus on a specific task or goal) and task-switching (mental process of shifting focus between different activities or goals).

Preliminary findings have shown that blue spaces and mountainous environments are advantageous compared to green spaces, indicating that any type of nature intervention to improve mental and cognitive health should encompass not only green spaces but also other types of natural elements.

“So, whether it’s a visit to the beach, a walk in the park, sitting in your garden, watching a nature video on YouTube or even just listening to nature sounds while going about your daily routines, make sure to carve out a bit of time each day to immerse yourself in nature – your brain and body will surely thank you for it,” says Dr Shumetha.

The School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the UoRM is committed to producing graduates who are analytical, critical and research-informed.

To that end, students are given the opportunity to undertake research projects with staff members via internships and final-year dissertations.

Students enrolled in Psychology programmes at the university also have the chance to use cutting-edge facilities, such as eye trackers, EEG, nutritional testing and a photography studio, be it during teaching and learning activities or for research work.

Dr Shumetha is a lecturer in psychology at UoRM. She has a keen interest in human visual perception and cognition, and employs computational, behavioural and psychophysiological measures in her research.

Open Day

UoRM is accepting applications for its April, July and September 2024 intakes. Students and parents are advised to contact the university for a consultation or to register for its Campus Open Day on June 29, which will be held from 10am to 4pm.

■ For more information, call +607-268 6205, email my.enquiry@reading.edu.my or visit www.reading.edu.my

To find out more about the UoRM’s School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, visit www.reading.edu.my/psychology

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