Spending some time outside to smell things in nature can help us feel relaxed and add to our positive well-being, according to a new study.

It’s well known that spending time in nature is inherently good for us. According to previous studies, nature contributes to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being, which is why gardening is known to help provide relaxation and peace of mind.

A new study has found that smells also play an important role in delivering benefits from interacting with nature. Often, this is due to a strong link to the personal memories of people, as well as specific ecological characteristics and processes.

Published in Ambio, the research was led by the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE). It examined the role of smell in influencing well-being through nature. The researchers found that smells affected multiple types of human well-being, especially physical well-being.

The absence of smell was also perceived to improve physical well-being since it offers a cleansing environment without any pollution or unwanted smell associated with urban areas. This, in turn, enables relaxation, which reduces stress and lowers the body’s cortisol levels. Since high cortisol levels are often linked to certain diseases, the researchers believe that the findings could be crucial to public health professionals.

Co-led by Dr. Jessica Fisher, a postdoctoral research associate at DICE, the research was carried out in woodland settings across four seasons. Many study participants created meaningful connections with particular smells, which influenced their well-being by provoking emotional reactions to the memories they made. The findings also showed that smells evoked memories related to childhood activities the participants used to do. Many of the participants also connected with smells more than the woodland itself.

“Nature is a multisensory experience, and our research demonstrates the potential significance of smell for well-being,” said Dr. Fisher. “The study provides findings that can inform the work of practitioners, public health specialists, policy-makers and landscape planners looking to improve well-being outcomes through nature. Small interventions could lead to public health benefits.”