Prescription for health and happiness: a daily dose of nature | Science Matters | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: Prescription for health and happiness: a daily dose of nature

With more than 80 per cent of Canadians now living in urban settings, many of us lack a meaningful, regular connection with the natural environment that sustains us. (Credit: evilpeacock via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Jode Roberts.

Do you want to be happier, healthier, and smarter? I have just the prescription for you: add a daily dose of nature to your routine.

Over the past decade, researchers from fields as diverse as biology, psychiatry, engineering, horticulture, neuroscience, and medicine have realized what most of us know intuitively: nature is good for our health and wellbeing. These experts have discovered countless links between time spent outdoors and cognitive, physical, and emotional development.

Studies show that enjoying a natural setting — like a park, beach, wetland, or forest — can reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and stress levels. Exposure to nature can help you sleep well and increase vigour and liveliness. It can even boost your immune system.

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In their new book Your Brain on Nature, naturopath Alan Logan and Harvard physician Eva Selhub cite dozens of studies that demonstrate the health benefits of the natural world. They even refer to outdoor physical activity as "exercise squared" because it can increase energy and fitness levels while reducing fatigue, depression, and obesity.

Melissa Lem, a family doctor and member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, says exposure to nature is vitally important for kids. She suggests that time spent with flora and fauna is essential for healthy psychological and physical development in children. In a recent Docs Talk column she points to studies that show daily doses of "green time" can be used to prevent and treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, hypertension, and diabetes. Ailments like myopia, asthma, and depression have also been linked to inadequate nature exposure.

While this scientific body of evidence is fascinating and growing quickly, most of us remain unaware of the full range of health benefits that nature provides. And with more than 80 per cent of Canadians now living in urban settings, many of us lack a meaningful, regular connection with the natural environment that sustains us. Getting in touch with the outdoors has another great benefit: those who know and love nature work harder to protect it.

This is why the David Suzuki Foundation is about to launch its first ever 30×30 Challenge. Starting June 1, we're inviting Canadians to spend at least 30 minutes in nature each day for 30 days. By encouraging people to get a regular dose of fresh air we hope to help participants take advantage of the many health benefits nature has to offer. They might even make it part of their continuing daily practice.

With the busy lives that many of us lead, taking time to get outside may seem difficult. But it's easier than you think. Green space is as close as your local park or backyard garden. Trails, ravines, and community gardens are often a short distance from the daily grind. And birds, bees, and other critters are usually nearby; you just have to take time to slow down, breathe, watch, and listen.

Are you curious about how you can get your daily dose of nature? Ditch the indoor gym and go for a run or walk in a park or on a trail instead. Use your lunch break to get out of the office and visit a nearby green space. Find a nice leafy tree and read a book in the shade. Brush off your green thumb and spruce up your garden. And on June 15, make plans to get outside with your favourite little ones on Nature Play Day in Canada.

For the young at heart, a British organization called the National Trust has put together a fun list of 50 activities all children should do before they are 11¾ years old. While playing conkers (a game involving chestnuts on strings) might not be among the top 50 Canadian pastimes, the list includes cool activities that are worthwhile for any age. The joys of rolling down a big hill, eating an apple picked fresh from a tree, and hunting for bugs are truly timeless.

Join the 30×30 Challenge beginning June 1 and incorporate small natural diversions into your daily routine for a month. Add some green to your commute, lunch break, workout schedule, or playtime. And remember, a daily dose of nature is good for your head, heart, and health.

May 24, 2012
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2012/05/prescription-for-health-and-happiness-a-daily-dose-of-nature/

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1 Comment

May 25, 2012
9:13 AM

30x30 Challenge = a fantastic initiative!

At Trees Ontario, we're in complete agreement that a healthy natural environment is fundamental for healthy and happy people. In fact, we recently released a report, A Healthy Dose of Green: A prescription for a healthy population, which highlights a growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of forest ecosystems for human health.

Forests provide opportunities for physical activity, cardiovascular and respiratory health, cancer prevention, stress reduction and a wide array of other physical and mental health benefits.

Researchers around the world have observed that the likelihood of engaging in physical activity is significantly higher in the presence of green spaces.

In Canada, approximately 82 per cent of teenagers are not active enough to meet international guidelines for optimal growth and development. In 1999, physical inactivity resulted in $2.1 billion in direct nation-wide health care costs, accounting for 21% of treatment costs for artery disease, stroke, high blood pressure, colon cancer, breast cancer, and diabetes.

By planting more trees in urban and rural areas, we can support a more physically active and healthy population.

Trees and forests not only offer more opportunities for recreation, but also protect us from exposure to pollutants such as carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter.

To read more about how trees protect us from these harmful pollutants, visit: www.treesontario.ca/health_paper

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