“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” -Albert Einstein
Just two years ago the Institute for Communications Technology Management at University of Southern California published the How Much Media? Report on American Consumers (HMM). The study combined data from hundreds of government and nongovernment data measurement agencies to make several unnerving predictions about media usage for the average American in 2015. The study factored in household data usage for at least 30 types of media including television, telephones, cell phones, tablets, computer gaming, and social media and then converted those numbers to their average time equivalent. Researchers used growth trends between 2008 and 2012 to project media consumption for the average American today. Here is what researchers predicted:
- The average American would clock 15.5 hours or the data equivalent of nine DVDs each day.
- The use of mobile messaging would double between 2012 and 2015.
- Americans would spend an average of 11 hours per month viewing Internet Video, a five hour increase from 2012.
- Annual usage of Facebook and YouTube would increase from 6.3 billon hours in 2012 to 35.2 billion hours in 2015.
While data usage for 2015 may not hammer out to an exact match of the HMM predictions, there is an important trend to consider. Americans are connecting more with the virtual world and less with the natural world. In 1984 E.O. Wilson, a naturalist and biologist, popularized the term biophilia, to describe “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” Wilson viewed this tendency as an evolutionary human trait and believed that people would be innately drawn to that which nourishes. Just three decades later, Oliver Pergams, PhD coined the term videophilia in a study published by University of Illinois at Chicago. This term was used by Pergams and colleagues to describe focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media. Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age also coined the terms nature-deficit disorder to describe the growing void between people (children in particular) and nature and “Vitamin N” to put a meaningful designation to the mental and physical benefits of spending time in the great outdoors. While nature-deficit disorder and Vitamin N may not be official medical terms, there is evidence that individuals can both suffer from a lack of exposure to nature and benefit from submersion in it.
Louv says, “Boomers could be the last generation to remember a time when it was considered normal and expected for children to play in woods and fields. When we leave this earth, will the memory of such experiences leave with us? Reconnecting the young to the natural world (as we reconnect ourselves) could be our greatest, most redemptive cause.” It is important to recognize that the human body and mind requires contact with nature to function optimally. Getting a daily dose of Vitamin N should be just as important as eating nutritious foods, showering, or showing up to work on time. It may not be the number one priority, but it should be a consideration in our own wellbeing.
Research Studies Supporting Health Benefits of Nature Submersion
- Research published by the University of Michigan shows that one hour spent in nature increases memory and attention span by 20 percent.
- A study at University of Kansas suggests that a few days spent in nature can increase creativity by 50 percent.
- In 2010, physicians and park professionals in Portland, Oregon partnered to integrate ‘green exercise’ into patient care.
- A study published in American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias reported that severe Alzheimer’s and dementia patients have decreased symptoms following horticultural therapy.
- Information published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health revealed a direct correlation between depression and living proximity to trees, parks, or outdoor areas.
- The American Journal of Preventative Medicine cited fewer trees as a causative factor in the increase of death due to lower-respiratory and cardiovascular illness.
- International Journal of Health Research noted that people who participated in outdoor exercise had lower blood pressure, higher self-esteem, and better mood than indoor exercisers.
- Four to six percent of Americans experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during winter months from a lack of being outdoors and getting sun.
- University of Illinois reported that children with ADHD were able to concentrate better after a 20 minute walk in the park, their counterparts who walked city streets did not reap the same benefit. Showing that location (amount of greenery) does matter.
- Adults who exercise outdoors are more likely to stick to their program.
- Children who spend more time outside are 27 to 41 percent less likely to be overweight than their counterparts who spend more time indoors.
- People who spend more time outdoors are less likely to be Vitamin D deficient. Sun exposure triggers Vitamin D synthesis within the body.
- South Korea’s Chonnam National University published a study showing increased brain activity while viewing images of mountains, forests, and other natural landscapes. Brain scans showed increased activity in the areas of the brain that control emotional stability and positive memories.
- Studies by Columbia University suggest that breathing negative ions for 60 minutes drops blood lactate levels by 33 percent, which increases energy. Such particles are abundant near moving bodies of water.
- A study on “forest bathing” at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School revealed evidence that spending two-to-four hours walking in the woods at least two days per week increased action of disease fighting white blood cells.
There are countless implications for nature therapy in health, thus healthcare practitioners are beginning to reintegrate the healing power of nature into patient care. Ecotherapy, also known as nature therapy is based on the concept that our well-being is highly affected by our environment and focuses on reestablishing one’s connection with Earth and its structures. Good Therapy provided this summary of ecotherapy,
“Ecotherapy is based on the theory that nature heals. Patients recovering from surgery heal faster when they have a window with a view of a tree or garden. Sad seniors brighten instantly when a baby or puppy comes to visit. Even violent offenders have been shown to behave less aggressively when they are given a window with a view of the great outdoors. Ecotherapy activities are intimately tied to nature and the world in its organic state. Long walks in the country are encouraged for people suffering with depression. Gardening or fishing can help relieve stress or tension. Helping revitalize or restore a common area in your community can create a feeling of purpose and hopefulness. Finding a quiet place to observe the beauty of the living world around you while just existing allows you to slow down and realize your deep connection to everything.”
Long story short, time spent in nature is time well spent.
Sources for this article include: