No doubt about it – these are challenging times! Our cities are becoming crowded, sociopolitical alterations are happening all around us and the earth’s climate is changing faster than anyone thought possible. This tension-producing mélange is served up to us, 24/7, in the news and on social media. It’s no wonder we’re feeling a little stressed! In fact, we’re in serious need of stress relievers – and our gardens, parks and local wildlands can play an important role.
Among the important changes (in the last 20 years) is the decreased amount of time spent outside. Long work hours, longer commutes, urbanization and increased time spent on-line are partly to blame. So, too, is the decreasing amount of readily available green space in S. California – from true wildlands to informal suburban ‘green spaces’ like vacant lots. Even when we’re outdoors, we’re more likely to be in an urban setting, with our eyes glued to our mobile devices.
So, why worry about our lack of quality time spent out-of-doors? Increasing evidence suggests that humans need certain types of outdoor exposures for their physical, mental, creative and spiritual well-being. That shouldn’t surprise us: humans have spent most of their existence in places very different from modern cities. Whether in the wilderness, on farms/ranches or in towns of the past, nature was always just a step away. Connecting with nature was quick and easy.
For most of human history, people were outdoors much of the time: working, walking, playing, gardening, hunting, etc. Human bodies became well-adapted to an active life out-of-doors. It’s not surprising that the rapid switch to our modern, indoor life style makes it difficult for our bodies to cope. The evidence is all around: increased rates of obesity, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, anxiety, depression and much more. Human bodies were meant to be active – and to be out-of-doors.
Some nations are way ahead of the U.S. in terms of understanding the importance of nature to urban life. Some countries even encourage physicians and other healers to prescribe ‘nature activities’ for their patients. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that supports the effectiveness of such practices. And if they work, then why not try them here? Nature activities certainly are more pleasant, less costly – and with fewer side effects - than most medicines.
Over the next few months we’ll be summarizing some of the evidence regarding nature exposure and human well-being. We’ll also attempt to apply the evidence to the home garden, suggesting ways to make your garden more relaxing, sustaining and healthful. We’ll also suggest ways that the whole family can interact with gardens, parks and wildlands to increase enjoyment and well-being. We hope you’ll want to come along for the journey.
If you’re interested in the nature-health connection, we suggest two provocative books on the subject:
Louv, Richard: The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. 2012. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. ISBN: 978-1-61620-141-8.
Williams, Florence: The nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative. 2017. W.W. Norton Co. ISBN: 978-0-393-24271-3
More posts in this series:
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