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3 tips on getting close to nature in Singapore

Singapore may be a high-density urban centre, but it’s also an extraordinarily green place – there are over 300 parks and four nature reserves within its borders. Taking time out to visit these natural spaces is not only pleasant and fun, it could actually enhance your mental wellbeing and help you live longer.

Nature reserve walkway
Take a casual morning stroll at one of the many parks in Singapore

Our connection to nature is inescapable. At a physical level, we share the same biological systems, behaviours and most of the genetic makeup of our fellow mammals. At a molecular level, we’re comprised of six main elements (from oxygen to phosphorous), each of which is sourced from the planet that we live on. The fact is, we are nature, and studies show that interacting with natural spaces on a regular basis is incredibly beneficial for both our health and longevity.

Since moving to Singapore, Karen’s teenage daughter had shown increasing signs of anxiety. The bustling neighbourhood they lived in appeared to be a constant source of low-level stress for her, despite careful professional care. “We lived on a busy road and the only way to have a sense of peace was to close all the windows. That would instantly leave us feeling disconnected from the world and entrapped in a man-made cube. It just seemed to me that our environment was undermining any progress we were making in terms of my daughter’s mental health,” Karen says.

Eventually, the family decided to move to a more remote location within a forested area of the island. The effect on Karen’s daughter was positive – and surprisingly swift. “Within weeks her state of mind improved dramatically,” Karen says. “One day, she came home particularly tense and anxious – usually the precursor of a very distressing evening. But this day, she disappeared for an hour and returned in a calm and peaceful mood. She informed me she had been in the forest ‘meditating’ under a banana tree.”

MacRitchie Reservoir Park
Enjoy the serenity at MacRitchie Reservoir Park, Singapore’s oldest reservoir. Photo credit: Tourism Singapore MacRitchie Reservoir

Recent studies have shown that the closer we live to nature, the more inclined we are to maintain strong mental health. For instance, a series of Swedish studies confirmed that city dwellers are around 75 percent more susceptible to psychosis and up to 20 percent more likely to develop depression than people who live in rural areas.

Dutch researchers discovered that the incidence of schizophrenia in city-dwellers is double the rate of those who live in the country. And last year, a study of more than 108,000 women in the US revealed that those with large amounts of greenery in their neighbourhood were 12 percent less likely to die than those with little or no connection to nature. The team behind this report (from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital) believe that similar results would occur if men were included in the study.

Healing the Disconnection

The past ten thousand years have seen a remarkable shift in the way humans live, think and view the world. For those in developed countries, life bears very little resemblance to the natural rhythms of our nomadic ancestors. Our homes are more elaborate, our tools are more advanced and, instead of seasons and sunrises, it’s the clock and calendar that determine our lives.

As we have removed ourselves further and further from nature, we’ve also begun to disconnect from our own natural needs and yearnings; we have come to regard ourselves as somehow distinct from – and above – nature. Even those who are aware of the negative effects of urban living – stress, mental illness, burnout – often turn to synthetic or unnatural remedies. However, as research is showing us, civilisation does not offer us all that we need. Intellectual prowess and material success are not the answer to wellbeing and contentment.

In order to be completely fulfilled we, as humans, must acknowledge our instinctive needs and desires and re-establish a relationship with the natural environment around us.

Lily pad
“Recent studies have shown that the closer we live to nature, the more inclined we are to maintain strong mental health”

Three Tips for Reconnecting with Nature in Singapore

#1 Commit to something that will draw you into nature regularly:

Join a Botanic Gardens walking group, or a mountain biking group at Bukit Timah, or a clean-up campaign in one of the nature reserves. Ensure you pick an activity that you’ll enjoy – being in nature is the cherry on top.

#2 Become curious about Singapore’s wildlife:

Whether you’re drawn to follow the otter families of Sungei Buloh or flying foxes of Pulau Ubin, cultivating an interest in the wildlife of Singapore will not only draw you into nature – it will help you be more “present” while you are there. Make your discoveries part of your “Singapore story” for friends and family back home.

#3 Bring nature into your home:

Don’t underestimate the impact of having nature in your home – potted plants, unfiltered sunshine and pets are a great way to fulfil natural instincts and needs.

Being Naturally You

  • Take a moment to appreciate the design of your amazing body, made – quite literally – of the Earth.
  • Gift yourself days without the clock; permit yourself to act purely on natural instinct and desire.
  • Quieten your mind and slow down your pace; observe how nature is unhurried and unperturbed.

 

By: Kim Forrester

This article that first appeared in the April 2017 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy for the full article, or Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!

Looking for more exciting things to do in Singapore? Check out our handy e-guide here packed with exciting places you can explore, from culture and arts, to green escapes.”

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