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Harnessing the Power of Nature Engagement and Social Connection to Alleviate Loneliness


Simple nature-based solutions can be a part of the healthcare solution to alleviate loneliness.


[This text has been written by Jill Litt, Professor of Environmental Health in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Senior researcher at ISGlobal, and Carolyn Daher, Cordinator of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at ISGlobal.]


Everywhere you look in the published media, blogs, newsletters, and health campaigns, loneliness is talked about by scientists, health officials, school administrators, community leaders, elected officials and people feeling lonely.

What does it mean to be lonely? While there are many definitions of loneliness, it refers to a subjective feeling of disappointment resulting from unfulfilling social connections or when social relationships do not meet expectations. Loneliness can be experienced even when surrounded by others if the social connections lack depth or understanding. It's a universal human experience, yet its intensity and impact vary from person to person and across cultures, geographies, social and economic groups.



Loneliness can lead to health problems

Ironically, while we are more connected than ever with our screens, notifications, and social media, individuals are increasingly finding themselves feeling lonely. Unfortunately, over time, loneliness can lead to many different health problems ranging from chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, as well as anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and mental well-being. In Europe alone, before the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, over 75 million European adults reported only meeting with family and friends at most once per month and 30 million European adults frequently felt lonely. These reports of loneliness are most prevalent in Eastern and Southern Europe and are experienced across all age groups. Conversely, when we are connected, we feel more motivated, have better attention, and report better health status and quality of life.


Nature-based solutions to foster social connections

Given the significant consequences of loneliness, public health and other health professionals are working to identify and provide solutions that can foster social connections in meaningful ways. These strategies should address the root causes of loneliness in our cities and compliment medical care. One exciting approach that is gaining momentum is engaging in nature with others to harness the healing power of nature.

We know nature is a source of beauty and a powerful ally for health. Yet, engaging with nature is not recognized as a healthcare intervention for people across their lifespans. How can nature become part of a person-centred care solution to promote emotional, social, mental, and physical wellbeing?

The healing power of nature

Scientific studies have highlighted the positive impact of nature on mental well-being. Nature is restorative for people. Whether it's a forest “bath”, a hike in the mountains, sitting by a tranquil lake, or community gardening, nature can soothe the soul. The sights, sounds, and smells of the natural world can provide a welcome respite from the pressures of daily life. Researchers have documented how nature can offer a sanctuary from the noise, pollution, crowding, and extreme heat and provides a space to reflect, rejuvenate, and rediscover a sense of self, and improve social connections by providing an environment that supports focused interactions with family and friends.

Solitude in nature

It is important to note that loneliness is often perceived as a negative emotion, but solitude, on the other hand, can be a transformative experience. Nature provides the ideal backdrop for solitude—a space where we can be alone with our thoughts, away from distractions of modern life. Embracing solitude in nature allows us to reconnect with ourselves, fostering a deeper understanding of who we are and what truly matters.

Mindful practices in nature

To fully harness the therapeutic benefits of nature, incorporating mindful practices can be immensely beneficial. Whether it's meditation amidst the chirping birds or running water, breath work by a flowing river, or simply immersing oneself in the present moment, these practices enhance the connection between mind, body, and nature.

Nature-supported social connections

Nature also provides opportunities for meaningful connections with others. Group hikes, nature retreats, or community gardening projects are just a few examples of how natural spaces can bring people together. Shared experiences in nature create bonds that foster a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, problem-solving, shared learning and deep connections between individuals and the natural spaces they experience. Research is showing that when we spend time in nature together, we can strengthen our feelings of social connection.

Health solutions should continue to seek out ways to address loneliness by promoting access to nature for all people. Fostering social connections in natural environments, for example, through social prescriptions might just be an antidote to the loneliness epidemic, reminding us of the healing power of connections and nature.


Research evidence is on the way

For medical and care providers looking for recommendations for people feeling lonely, research is underway to examine the use of nature-based social prescription to alleviate loneliness. Since 2021, ISGlobal, together with 12 international partners, is leading a global consortium to address loneliness using nature-based solutions through the RECETAS project. Currently we are testing interventions in six cities across Australia, Europe and South America. Through a peer-supported group intervention, we are examining whether a 12-week intervention can reduce loneliness. This work is funded by the European Commission through the Horizon 2020 Research Programme. We are building on extensive evidence that simple nature-based solutions can be a part of the healthcare solution to alleviate loneliness, and we look forward to sharing our results with you soon.


If interested in getting involved in RECETAS, please visit our website at or contact Jill Litt at