Were you able to get outside over the Fourth of July long weekend? I was lucky enough to swim in a lake, listen to loons and enjoy a picnic with friends and family. We are so fortunate to have access to great outdoor spaces in our community. Our environment impacts our health, negatively or positively. What you are seeing, hearing, and experiencing moment to moment is changing not only your mood, but how your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working. Is interacting with nature a part of your self-care routine?
Although human beings have been urbanizing and moving indoors since the introduction of agriculture, social and technological changes in the past three decades have accelerated the human disconnect from the natural world. We live in a society where people are spending more and more time indoors and online.
Making the choice to get outdoors every day dramatically improves your health and wellbeing. Research tells us interacting in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature when you can’t physically be outdoors can:
• reduce anger, fear, and stress
• help you cope with pain
• ellicit a calm and balanced mood
• increase your attention span
• enhance your ability to learn
• build confidence
• augment your creativity and playfulness
One of the most intriguing findings in the research is nature’s ability to connect us to each other and the larger world. This experience of connection may be explained by studies that used fMRI to measure brain activity. When participants viewed nature scenes, the parts of the brain associated with empathy and love lit up. When they viewed scenes with only urban concrete, asphalt and buildings, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety were activated. It appears nature inspires feelings that connect us to each other and our environment.
This is particularly important in our children. Research has shown that children do better physically and emotionally when they are in green spaces, benefiting from the positive feelings, stress reduction, and attention restoration nature engenders. Playing in nature develops executive function which is a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. We use these skills every day to learn, work, and manage daily life. To read more about enhancing your executive functioning as it relates to personal and community health and wellbeing, check out my article “Have a Courageous Conversation” article in the March 17,22 Southwest Connector.
According to Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder:”
Nature-deficit disorder” is not a medical diagnosis, but a term meant to describe what many of us believe are the human costs of alienation from nature: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses, a rising rate of myopia, child and adult obesity, Vitamin D deficiency, and other maladies.
These problems are linked more broadly to what health care experts call the “epidemic of inactivity,” and to a devaluing of independent play. The quality of the time in nature depends on how direct the experience with nature is. Are kids getting their hands wet and their feet muddy? Are they playing make believe building with sticks and stones? These types of activities can help kids learn to have confidence in themselves and power to make independent decisions.
Adults report regaining their own perception of wonder, as well. They feel a greater sense of work-life balance and freedom from frenzied family schedules. One strategy for making time in nature happen is planning and honoring a weekly “green hour” in the same way a family might commit to supporting a child’s soccer schedule.
You are invited to get outside. Spend more time in your favorite place or discover new outdoor spaces in our urban community. You can:
• walk on our many trails
• swim, canoe, kayak, or paddle board in a lake
• ride your bike
• walk a labyrinth
• hang a hammock in the park
• sit under a tree
• enjoy a garden or pot with flowers, herbs, or vegetables
• lay on your back and enjoy a view of the sky and clouds
Invite your friends and family to join you.
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