FINDING OUR ROOTS - HOW NATURE CAN IMPROVE OUR HEALTH AND HAPPINESS

FINDING OUR ROOTS - HOW NATURE CAN IMPROVE OUR HEALTH AND HAPPINESS

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The interdependence of the symbiotic relationship between human beings and trees is undeniable; we, as humans, breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide whilst trees absorb carbon dioxide and create oxygen. Our fast pace, technologically fuelled modern society, however, has seen us sway from an understanding of the importance of this connection and just how vital it is for our survival.

Beyond providing us with oxygen, there is a vast array of other health benefits that trees can gift to us. In the mid-1800’s a renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who is known for his contribution to the design of New York’s Central Park, suggested the powerful role that nature can play in improving and sustaining human health and happiness. Olmstead believed the presence of nature to be fundamental to the health and vitality of human beings, which resulted in his revolutionary creation of the public park, driven by his intention to provide the masses with access to green space and thus enhance their health and wellbeing.

Evidently, this knowledge is not new. However, it is perhaps more relevant to our present time than ever as we see mental, physical and emotional health issues at an all time high. Study after study we are seeing the pivotal power that nature can play in improving human health, happiness and wellbeing and how the urbanisation of society, whilst it has enabled our advancement in many areas, has led us astray from our innate capacity to be well. We can no longer ignore the call to get back to our roots.

One study, conducted by Prof Richard Mitchell from the University of Glasgow, found a fifty percent increase in people’s mental health if they were physically active in a natural environment outdoors compared with an indoor environment. Prof Mitchell states how much sense it makes for human beings stress levels to lower when in a natural environment due to the fact that “the brain likes to be in a natural environment and it reacts to being there by turning down our stress responses”. In another study, over 500 Japanese students were asked to report on their moods after fifteen minutes of walking in either a forest environment or an urban environment. The findings saw that in all cases the students who walked in the forests saw “less anxiety, hostility, fatigue, confusion and depressive symptoms, and more vigor, compared to walking in an urban setting”.

Interestingly, some doctors have even started prescribing moments spent in nature to patients to assist in curing a number of different ailments. One example of this can be seen in the practices of Washington based paediatrician Dr. Robert Zarr and his ‘Parks Prescription’ program which is driven by his belief that the “chronic scourges of city life can be prevented or alleviated by reconnecting with nature”. Dr. Zarr’s practice is supported through studies of over 300 scientific reports that show a strong correlation between time spent outdoors and health improvements which include but are not limited to; regulated blood pressure, a decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression, an improvement in immune function and healthy weight management in cases of obesity. Through encouraging and prescribing time spent in nature, Dr Zarr believes we will see a decline in chronic disease, further suggesting the potent medicinal power that trees can have on our health and wellbeing.

The role that nature can play in reuniting and reacquainting us with our innate state of wellbeing is undeniable. It is from nature that we originally evolved and therefore it makes sense that time spent amongst it is where our brains, minds and hearts feel the most at ease and at home. The urban environment has played an important role in our technological development and societal advancement and that should not be disregarded but the overwhelming presence of chronic disease shows the need for us to bridge the gap between the urban and the natural for the sake of our cities, our homes and our hearts. The time has come to reconnect to the very thing that gave us life in the first place and the future of our society, our health and our happiness depends upon it.

 

Written by Florence Townshend

Nature enthusiast, wellness aficionado, yoga teacher and environmental studies graduate.

 

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