Out of Doors

kid and frog 1“Perhaps it’s a deep evolutionary connection that remains after all these years, a hunger to spend time in an ancient space that was once our natural home. Or maybe it’s the closer social interactions, the cleaner and quieter air, the exercise, the relaxation, the exposure to microbes in dirt, all of which occurs when we’re in forests, and boosts health.”
~ Katherine Martinko

The dog woke me up at 6:30 am, and it was still dark outside with snow on the ground.
As I’ve gotten older my interest in outdoor activities, not to mention getting up early, during the winter has waned. It’s dark and cold and having to get all dressed up seems like a lot of work. It can also be icy and snowy with that cold wind that cuts through your clothes. Inside, the house is warm, the coffee is hot and I can watch the dog run around in the snow from the kitchen table. But — especially in winter — it is important to get out and about. Even a little bit of direct sunlight is good for your health and your soul.

It raises a question in my mind about some of our biases. Us old folks criticize the younger for spending all their time inside, playing video games or watching tv, rather than playing outside like we (supposedly) did in the good ol’ days. I hear lots of flack thrown at the kids and their parents for not making them ‘get out and get dirty’. It’s almost as bad as when we were kids and were corrupted by comic books and that insidious rock and roll! (Sure enough, it did rot our brains and we became the generation that had free love, smoked dope and didn’t want to go die in a contrived war overseas.)

On the other hand, today’s required skill sets are digital and computer-based, a lot like video games. Frogs are more likely to be dissected online than caught and taken home as a pet or just to terrify your sister. Getting up early to milk the pigs and chickens is a dying art and chore.

But I agree that being out in nature is important. In part, since we are actually a part of nature (not man apart), but also because of its proven influences on us physically and mentally.

Writers Jamie Ducharme and Katherine Martinko have separately reported on new studies about the effects of nature on us. Ducharme noted that one study emphasized what we already knew: “Spending time outdoors, especially in green spaces, is one of the fastest ways to improve your health and happiness. It’s been shown to lower stress, blood pressure and heart rate, while encouraging physical activity and buoying mood and mental health.”

Martinko noted another study, the co-author of which concluded: “Green space seemed to have an association that was similar in strength to other known influences on mental health, like history of mental health disorders in the family, or socioeconomic status. What’s more, the effect of green space was ‘dosage dependent’ — the more of one’s childhood spent close to greenery, the lower the risk of mental health problems in adulthood.”

(So my generation that spent so much time outdoors should be much more mentally healthy than all those Gen Xer’s and millennials. Have you read the newspapers lately? Maybe we aren’t doing such a great job.)

Similarly, Ducharme reported, “For many people in the study, simply being in green space seemed to be enough to spark a change … some people may go to the park and just enjoy nature. It’s not that they have to be rigorous in terms of exercise … You relax and reduce stress, and then you feel more happy.”

In fact, the beneficial effects of nature on humans is so well established that, according to Duchame, one physician, Dr. Robert Zarr, a pediatrician in Washington, D.C., is actually writing prescriptions for his patients to encourage more outdoor time. “These ‘nature prescriptions’ — therapies that are redeemable only outdoors, in the fresh air of a local park — advise patients to spend an hour each week playing tennis, for instance, or to explore all the soccer fields near their home. The scripts are recorded in his patients’ electronic health records.”

The prescription idea is catching on and is used in at least 47 states and several other countries. Encouraging people to get outside and into any form of nature is considered ‘free medicine’, to battle various conditions such as obesity, mental-health issues or chronic hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.

I can vouch for nature being good medicine. Now maybe, we need to prescribe more outdoor time for anyone that works in federal government in Washington, DC. Sex, drugs and rock and roll doesn’t seem to have worked.

Additional information:

Jamie Ducharme, Spending Just 20 Minutes in a Park Makes You Happier. Here’s What Else Being Outside Can Do for Your Health, February 28, 2019, Time Magazine

Katherine Martinko, Growing up near green space reduces risk of mental illness, March 5, 2019, Treehugger Daily News

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