By Tracy Brighten
Spending time in nature has many health benefits, yet we find ourselves more removed from the natural world
In economically developed countries, we enjoy medical and technological advances that improve our health and lifespan. We have education, transport, energy, and communication systems that give us greater opportunities for careers, business and travel, as well as a more comfortable lifestyle.
You might expect people to be happier than ever.
But while there are many benefits of technology, we seem to be increasingly dependent, spending more time inactive and indoors.
Obesity is a worsening health crisis as we live a more sedentary lifestyle. In a half-hearted bid to improve our health, we look for the latest exercise craze, quick-fix weight-loss fad, or multivitamin to cure all ills. We might even see a doctor if our health problems start to interfere with our life.
If we do make it to the doctor’s clinic, we’ve come to expect prescription medication, feeling let down if we leave empty handed.
Doctors can feel under pressure to prescribe. But while drugs are essential to treat or prevent some medical conditions, natural treatments and therapies could be more effective for others.
In our working day, we may spend most of our time sitting down. In post-work relaxation, the television, iPad, and iPhone are irresistible. We rely heavily on cars for transport and on machines and gadgets to do jobs we once did ourselves.
In our gardens, the trend is to cover smaller spaces with concrete or pavers. It’s a low maintenance option in our time-short lifestyle. It’s less common to see small gardens intentionally planted with trees and shrubs that attract wildlife. Yet we’re missing an opportunity here for children to watch and care for nature in their own garden.
As we try to make our lives easier, we move further away from living a spiritually satisfying life. We have material comforts, but we risk being physically unfit and mentally stagnant.
While there are a number of factors affecting happiness, identified in the World Happiness Report, research suggests our wellbeing is positively affected by spending time in nature. The World Health Organisation predicts that depression will become the second biggest cause of illness worldwide by 2020. With anti-depressant use on the increase, a natural treatment without side effects would be more cost-effective.
When we walk, run or cycle in the park, countryside or forest, not only do we boost our physical health, but in soaking up the sunshine, we can ward off or manage depression. Even just sitting in nature increases our vitality and wellbeing.
When we’re spending time in nature, we live in the moment.
We can escape the fast pace and stress of our technology-filled lifestyle. Smelling the scent of jasmine and freshly cut grass, listening to the birds sing and watching them feed on the wing, we can feel more alive.
Close to home or in remote places, the effect of spending time in nature is the same. Whether it’s the blackbird in our garden raking through leaf litter, the butterfly feeding on buddleia blooms, or the bird on the beach fattening up for its long migratory journey, let’s stop and watch.
In connecting with nature, we understand and appreciate it. We care more about preserving habitats for the wildlife they support, as well as for human enjoyment.
When our lives revolve around urban homes, workplaces, shopping malls and leisure centres, we remain detached from the natural environment. We can hide from how our food is produced, from environmental damage to our rivers and oceans, and from animals at risk of being lost forever.
But the natural environment can increase our sense of social responsibility and give us greater satisfaction and purpose. Joining wildlife conservation and community groups, whether donating money or time, connects us with people as well as with nature.
Spending time in nature is good for our soul!
Do you regularly spend time in nature? Do you have a garden, or local park, or a favourite place further afield where you like to relax or exercise in nature?
Image credit: Walk in Nature by David Brighten