Norvergence: Forests are an incredible resource for us. Lush green spaces in and around the cities act as lungs purifying the air. People all over the world flock to forests, parks and green patches of lands to hike, jog or just soak in the greenery and the calm. In Japan, people practice something called forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means ‘forest,’ and yoku means ‘bath’. So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere or taking in the forest through our senses. As we live day to day in the toxin-filled, chemical-laden environment, we face serious hazardous health risks. The city homes have more pollution inside as much as outside on traffic-choked streets.
Spending time in nature has been proved to improve our immune system as well as eyesight. When we spend time outdoors, we get Vitamin D which is one of the most essential factors responsible for the immune function of our body. Apart from the immune system, Nature is also beneficial for our eyes.
Norvergence: Most of us often end up spending too much time staring at computer/mobile/Television screens in a day which could result in CBS syndrome. This causes blurry vision, watery eyes and in some cases loss of vision.
Norvergence: According to a 2007 study, children who spent at least a minimum of 2 hrs. in the outdoors playing were four times least likely to develop nearsightedness. Exposure to greenery or nature also improves our sleep cycle or circadian rhythm. Oftentimes we are exposed to unnatural lights that are detrimental to our sleep patterns. Spending time in nature and undertaking activities such as trekking, hiking, camping etc. exposes us to fresh air, sunlight and natural light which reset our circadian rhythm into a proper cycle.
Spending outdoors also increases serotonin levels, as well as different areas responsible for empathy, love and emotional stability of our brain, are activated. However, in cities, our brain experiences fear, anxiety and hypertension due to fast lifestyle and high pollution levels. The idea behind nature curing the detrimental effects of city living is not new. Centuries ago, residents of ancient Rome understood the relationship between spending time in nature on coping from the noisy and overcrowded urban environment.
Norvergence: In the late nineteenth century, the health care professionals advocated the presence of urban parks in cities as they found a direct relation between wellness and greenery. So, what are the health benefits of spending time in nature? Why do we feel a sense of wellness and tranquility when we face a balcony with a green view or how do we feel fresh vitality and enthusiasm after spending time in natural surroundings?
The attention restoration theory (ART) by Stephen and Rachel Kaplan explains human response to the effect of natural surroundings. According to the theory, this focuses on the mental process and explains that our cognitive process can get exhausted because of prolonged work in a controlled environment such as offices.
Norvergence: This leads to frustration, weariness and lack of attention span. Being in nature helps us recover from mental tiredness as well as make us alert and aware of our surroundings. Roger Ulrich’s stress reduction theory (SRT) has been supported by different studies conducted on people in hospitals, prisons, residential communities, offices and schools. The results show the effect of natural spaces on the emotional and biological responses of a person.
Being in natural organic ambience decreases emotional stress as well as reduces elevated physiological conditions (such as heart rate and blood pressure). Greenery and water bodies create a calming environment that creates a “Mindful” or “Being in the moment” response which results in wakefully relaxed attention. Creating improvement in our parasympathetic nervous system activity. Ulrich’s stress reduction theory is also known as ‘Psycho-Evolutionary’ theory. According to the reason nature cures human beings is that for millions of year’s human beings residing in the wilderness.
Norvergence: About 99.9% of human existence has been living and growing amongst natural surroundings. It is only about 0.01% of the time that the modern Homo sapiens adapted themselves to their new urban surroundings. Then this is but natural that modern humans would be having health benefits of a natural environment which was home to their ancestors once. In a greener environment, people report fewer symptoms of illness and have better perceived general and mental health by a considerable amount. Studies have shown spending time amongst green spaces leads to improved attention span, self-discipline and physical fitness. This leads to a reduction in stress levels and general well-being.
According to recent research spending, time in nature improves academic performance also in children. Research shows children who were taking at least 20 min. hike in parks or nature trails showed an improvement in ADHD, a common neurodevelopmental disorder amongst young children and adults. An improvement that is similar to the one in children who took prescribed medication for the disorder. Some of the educationists and medical professionals are now asking schools to drop the traditional classroom models and keep at least an hour for outdoor education.
Norvergence: In Ryerson University, Canada, students meet up weekly at a greenhouse. Children tend to face as much if not more stress than adults. However, taking these children in natural surroundings can enhance their concentration levels and reduce stress. Forests and green parks are also important around cities because of the rising level of polluted air. Air pollution kills almost seven million people in the world every year. One in nine people die of air pollution. Therefore, forests and green parks also reduce the risk of polluted air and release oxygen levels which is essential for our existence.
However, are all these benefits of spending time in nature beneficial as these studies suggest? We do know that exposure to sunlight provides vitamin D and helps to build our immunity. However, prolonged exposure to the sun in the outdoors can be detrimental to our skin and in many cases lead to dehydration as well as cause discomfort and fatigue. According to a study done by a suburban hospital, some patients were put in rooms that looked out at a brick wall and others to a room that had a view of trees.
Norvergence: These patients had undergone surgery and after a while, it was found that the patients with rooms overlooking trees underwent shorter post-operative care and took fewer painkillers as compared surgical patients that had rooms overlooking a brick wall. This study shows clearly a direct link between the color green and nature can have on a person’s health.
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We all know eating greens is good for health but seeing green in nature is as beneficial. However, very few experiments have been done to investigate whether the natural environment indeed can positively affect biological stress. Another interesting experiment that was conducted by researchers was to investigate human EEG response to viewing fractal patterns. Fractals are as we know patterns found throughout nature. The results showed a positive liking for natural patterns. However, unique as they may be, these studies are less consistent in proving the psycho-physiological benefits of nature on humans. Many of the studies were the outcome of self-reportage of emotions experienced by individuals regarding their experiences in nature, which sounds more so like a difference between “synthetic versus organic stimulation.”
Norvergence: However, despite all this, we all have enough human knowledge to ascertain that nature does benefit us in more ways than we can imagine or ascertain. Sauntering through a green park in the middle of a concrete city helps to increase our serotine levels, reduce our anxiety and provide ample physical activity.
Doctors once prescribed mountain air for depression and anxiety despite lack of known medical claim to back it up. However, there is enough evidence around us and recently many forms of “Eco Therapy ” or “Nature Therapy” have been introduced that utilizes the essence of the healing powers of Mother Nature.
As John Muir once said and Norvergence quotes, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”. In today’s concrete asphalt laden world created by men, Free, easy to access and non-invasive Nature indeed, is a necessity as well as beneficial for human health.