As winter releases its chilly grasp on us, the birds are exploding with excitement and plants are starting to come alive again. With spring arriving at the pace of a slow saunter this year and everyone suffering cabin fever like no other, it is important to realize just how beneficial spending time in nature can be to our wellbeing. Our Vitamin D levels are staggeringly low and it is time to get outside and soak up the sun and fresh air whether it be out walking the dog, getting the gardens prepped or just tidying up the yard.
It has been scientifically proven that being outside in nature has many health benefits including reducing stress, improving focus and sleep, increasing your immune system and even boosting your creativity. Children especially benefit from being outside. In one study, kids with ADHD were able to concentrate better on a task after a walk in the park than they were after a walk through an urban area.
Nature allows us to get a reset from life, and take a break from all of the things that drain us. Exposure to nature and getting away from the day to day societal pressures lets us all focus on things that we value such as our relationships with others and things that bring us happiness.
“The physiological response to being outside in nature is real, and it’s measurable,” said Michelle Kondo, a research social scientist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. “There are many physical and psychological benefits of nature that scientists have observed which can better help us understand how nature supports wellness in the body, mind and community.”
Hippocrates himself said “Nature is the best Physician”. Being outside promotes a healthy lifestyle which enables physical activity, also improving sleep patterns and increasing life expectancy. Being outside is proven to be relaxing, reducing heart rate, muscle tension and stress, which all account for risk of cardiovascular disease. Scientists are currently studying the correlation to chronic health conditions and the proximity of their residence to green spaces, as they are finding the further people live from nature, the more susceptible they are to chronic illness and disease.
According to a study in the Journal of Aging and Health “adults over 70 who spent time outdoors experienced fewer sleep difficulties, complained less about aches and pains, and enjoyed improved mobility and ability to perform daily activities.”
Illness, injury and surgery can all cause stress and anxiety making for a longer healing process. Research has found that patients recovering with access to the outdoors and nature not only heal their injuries faster, but they quite often require less pain medication, have shorter hospital stays and experience fewer complications.
When we spend time in nature, or have natural surroundings close to us, our mental health also improves and we are at a lower risk of depression. Being in nature, people can psychologically recover faster, strengthen mental capacities and increase focus and attention. The outdoors also serve as a gathering place where you can meet with friends or family, or run into your neighbor or meet someone new. All of these social interactions have a huge impact on our mental health and reduce isolation by improving social connection.
Some cities recognize the long term beneficial impacts of having green spaces and have been planting trees to provide nature-scapes in the densest of populations. “We’ve found in neighborhoods that receive tree plantings or other greening initiatives, that people tend to have better attitudes towards their neighbors, “said Kondo, “which in turn often results in better relationships.”
With so many changes in our lives over the last 20 years, more and more children especially are disconnecting from nature and spending far too much time indoors. According to the National Wildlife Federation, “The average American child spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen.” The Mayo Clinic advises that too much screen time can be linked to obesity, behavioral issues, irregular sleep, suffering academic grades and even violence.
The electronic screens are very attention grabbing and exciting which can trigger the release of dopamine, thus making us associate screens with something that is good and something that we want more of, despite it actually being bad for us. Spending more time outside increases attention spans, decreases aggression and inspires creativity in children.
The National Wildlife Federation recognizes the need for children to spend more time outside and develop a relationship with nature, for their health and for the sake of the environment. They have set a three year goal to get 21 million American children, teens and young adults out of their houses and into the outdoors. “This goal propels us toward a future in which all kids spend time outside each day, creating a generation of happier, healthier children with more awareness and connection to the natural world.”
The National Wildlife Federation’s Green Hour Program was created to encourage and enable parents, grandparents, caregivers, schools and childcare centers to set aside one hour each day for children to play and learn in nature. The “Green Hour” is based on research from the Centers for Disease Control and the Academy of America Pediatrics which shows that “the best way to connect young people to a lifelong concern for nature, wildlife, and the outdoors is through regular positive experiences.”
Each week new activities are provided to connect children to nature, such as becoming a wildlife detective, crafting with found items in the forest to creating a nature notebook. Here is the link to log on and choose your season and your activity!
In closing, spring is here and we all need to get outside and enjoy it! We are all so fortunate to live in Fanny Bay with trees and birds and mountains all around us. It is terrifying to think how many young people especially 20 and under are disconnected from our natural world. It is so important for our health and the health of the planet for all ages to have a connection with nature and an appreciation of its awesomeness. Get out and enjoy every moment!
By Angela Hicke – Van Isle Wild
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