Nature Heals and Restores

Last week some friends and I drove out to visit another friend who lives in a wonderfully restored rural home that they lovingly refer to as “the ranch”.

The view was spectacular, the weather was sunny and warm, and sitting on their front deck drinking lemonade and “activating” - as they called rocking in their wooden rocking chairs - was absolutely delightful.

I could almost feel the stress ooze out of my body.  Even more than the rest of us, my friend Carol just lapped up the ambiance, smiling like a Cheshire cat, savouring every minute we spent there. She almost had to be pried out of her chair when it was time to go.

It was clear to everyone that the quiet and peaceful outdoors just made us all feel good.

According to Pulitzer Prize winning biologist, Edward O.Wilson at Harvard University, we were experiencing biophilia. 

Even though it sounds like a disease, literally translated, biophilia means “love of living things”.

It describes what Wilson believes is our innate need to connect with nature, plant and wildlife, and the great outdoors.

According to Wilson and a growing number of other scientists, the need for, and attraction to, natural environments is much more than the latest trend. 

Research indicates our brain is “programmed” or “wired” to be receptive to nature. Over the past two million years, people existed in an environment where the sights, sounds and smells of nature were crucial to survival.  Those most in tune with nature, were those who survived. 

Today, our connections to the outdoors may be much more tenuous.  It is quite possible to function without spending much time tuning in to nature.  However, when we do take the time to commune with nature, it will have a positive impact on our health and well-being. 

Even if you don’t have time to hike, fish, garden, camp or rock climb, simply viewing the outdoors can deliver benefits. 

One study found that workers whose office windows had natural views reported less job stress than those whose windows overlooked a parking lot.  And while it may not quite be the same, the fact that my own kitchen window now overlooks a park does seem to take some of the pain out of washing dishes.

Another study concluded that people in hospitals heal quicker in rooms with a view of trees in a park-like setting.  Studies have also shown that patients in nursing homes or psychiatric hospitals are healthier amid plant and wildlife and that petting a dog or cat, talking to birds, or even simply watching fish swim in an aquarium can lower one’s blood pressure and reduce the physical effects of stress.

That explains why more and more caretakers in healthcare settings are turning to horticultural and pet therapy programs.

While it may not be possible to visit friends in the country, fish or take a hike every day, it may be possible to incorporate nature into our everyday lives. 

Stop and admire the beauty of the fall foliage.  Take a moment to watch the birds or squirrels. Rake a pile of leaves and jump in, set up a bird feeder, move your office desk next to the window, play with your dog, buy a plant or pick some apples. 

If nothing else, wherever you are, open up those curtains and let the sun shine in.


Posted on 09-07-08

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