If you work an office job, or any other job inside, or if you’re a student, or even someone who works outside in an urban environment, you might be getting minimal time in nature. That being said, as a green monster, you probably care for the environment, watch that you eat a natural diet, and appreciate lovely scenery. All of this is possible, without being an outdoorsy person, but there are lots of reasons why connecting with nature is important, and furthermore, why making sure the young folk of our society do too.
Adding to indoor time might be society’s idea of what’s important; our clothes, our online profiles, our technology. Imagine if our connection to the physical world was as strong now as any one of those things. According to the New York Times, people between the ages 8 and 18 are spending at least seven and a half hours in front of screens these days. That’s a lot of time every day. So, in case you needed any more incentive to get outside, here are some ways in which being in the Great Outdoors is the best therapy of all.
Nature is good for our sense of wellbeing. The way nature works as a whole system, bringing meaning to great complexity, often gives people a sense of purpose and understanding. This purpose has to do with feeling connected to a larger environment and order. While nature connects you to a larger system, it also helps people come to terms with what they cannot control. In nature, people learn to cope and acts as a stress controller.
Studies at the University of Michigan showed that people who spent one hour in nature experienced a 20 percent boost in memory and attention spans. The University of Kansas also found a 50 percent increase in creativity after people spent a few days in nature. On top of this, research in fact links time in nature with stress levels, depression, healing time, and the need for medication. Health care professionals in Portland even started pairing people with park professionals to help patients get some more time outside.
Importantly, nature invites energy and clear headedness; being active in nature is natural. Often, getting to nature also includes physical activity, a huge bonus in our ever sedentary lifestyles. Exercising in nature even has its own term; “green exercise” has shown to improve mood and self esteem, and even taking a walk in nature can be a de-stresser. Research also shows that interactions with plants, specifically trees, has a role in physical and psychological health, and in tackling mental illness. Hanging out with trees might even be able to cure headaches, as well.
Attention span is a huge added benefit as well; a study at the University of Michigan showed that after just one hour in nature, people’s attention spans improved, and a study at the University of Kansas also saw a boost in creativity. This is a huge issue in relation to kids; attention deficit disorders have been on the rise in recent years, and listening to these studies and getting kids outside certainly can’t hurt. A term, nature deficit disorder, has even been coined to explain this disconnectedness many youth feel with the great outdoors. It’s defined as a lack of regular interaction with nature, which can cause stunted academic and developmental growth. Many of the problems mentioned above in relation to physical and mental health, and children’s lack of confidence to explore their world around them is attributed to their distance of natural environments.
In addition to the health benefits, getting kids outside might be an important step in getting them to connect with the physical world and environmental issues. Canadian environmentalist, David Suzuki, talks frequently about the term “biophilia”, describing how humans feel the need to interact with other species, a need which is seldom met these days when children are often told to not do things in urban environments. This is important for children specifically, as they then treat other interactions in their life in a similar way. For example, protecting insects in an important ecosystem might not seem important because a child has never been encouraged to play in the dirt and discover the world of creepy crawlies.
So play outside! Try growing some food, to make it feel productive. If you have kids, this might be a good project for them, as learning to garden is a great idea to build life skills and feel a connection to nature. Here’s a list of ideas on how to get your whole family playing out of doors.
Bringing nature to you is the next big step. There are many options if you wish to bring greenery into your life. Consider planting a garden of local plant species to encourage local butterflies to come through, or even plant an indoor garden. Flowers in your kitchen add some lovely color! Try using the technology at your fingers to create “outdoor time”. Find carpools to natural areas outside of urban centers and join hiking clubs. Go walking in your local park, and, if there are children in your life, encourage them to play outside. Shut down the TV and go play tag. After all, appreciating nature probably won’t hurt the maintenance of the environmental movement, either. So go get outside!
Image Source: Maggie Brauer/Flickr