Need Some Vitamin N?
I’m not what anyone would describe as a tree hugger or as even as being the outdoor type. However, this year’s never-ending winter left me with a distinct longing to be outdoors tromping through the woods. It was as if my body and mind were telling me I needed to push myself away from the computer and find me a good dose of what author, Richard Louv, has termed Vitamin N – the N standing for nature.
In his book, “The Nature Principle”, Louv shows that this connection to nature, or in some cases re-connection, is fundamental to our health, creativity, and well-being. He asks us to think about how our lives could be different if we were as immersed in nature as we are in electronics. He suggests the more high tech our lives become, the more nature we need in order to achieve balance. Even exposure to a common soil bacteria increases production of the serotonin in our brains that makes us feel better.
New research also suggests that exposure to natural environments enhances our ability to cope with and recover from stress, illness, and injury. Short, quiet encounters with natural elements can calm us, and help us feel less alone.
Even living closer to nature has it benefits. While I live across from a park and have always enjoyed the view from an aesthetic perspective I was surprised to learn that being nearby nature can even be an antidote to obesity. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the greener the neighborhood, the lower the Body Mass Index of Children. The study of over 3,800 inner city children revealed that living in areas with green space had a long term positive impact on children’s weight and therefore their health. And, while I’ve known many communities are making trails a priority, it is also interesting to note that a coalition of 30 health care organizations in New Mexico initiated “Prescription Trails” as a priority for reducing the negative health effects associated with diabetes.
Researchers are even suggesting that physical exercise in natural settings has added psychological value that goes beyond the benefits of exercising indoors. Additionally it is less expensive, reduces Vitamin D deficiency, and builds a greater sense of community. In the United Kingdom, families are forming “green gyms” to bring people of all ages together for open-air exercise.
In Norway, general practitioners are beginning to prescribe their patients a stay at a green care farm. These care farms design tasks and activities for psychiatric patients, those who have mental impairments, and those living with dementia. The tasks and activities are then delivered by a partnership among farmers, volunteers, health care providers, and social service agencies. The farms also provide programs for kindergartens, after-school programs, school projects and theme assignments, and education adapted to pupils with special needs. They can also act as daycare centres or foster homes.
Apparently, a more natural environment can also enhance our intelligence and creativity. Research shows it can stimulate our ability to pay attention, think clearly, and be more creative. This knowledge is leading to a European trend called “Forest Schools” that are an innovative educational approach to outdoor play and learning. The philosophy of Forest Schools is to encourage and inspire individuals of any age through positive outdoor experiences. By participating in tasks and activities in a woodland environment that are engaging, motivating, and achievable, each participant has the opportunity to develop intrinsic motivation, sound emotional and social skills, learn boundaries of behaviour, and establish and grow their confidence and self-esteem. While some may see nature as being a value-added rather than an essential, there is speculation that not being connected has resulted in the decline of an ancient feedback system that, had it been in place, could have prevented climate change.
If none of the research presented by Louv convinces you to step away from the remote and into the great outdoors, do it for the simple reason that it can contribute to your happiness. The new science of happiness indicates that enduring happiness is found in less materialistic pursuits and more in our intrinsic values. It is more about our relationships, meaningful work, a sense of purpose, and our relationship with our place. It means the more we conserve and create natural habitats and stay connected to nature, the greater the chances will be for our happiness as well as our health and personal growth.Posted on 04-17-15
And don’t forget that May 2nd is Nature Play Day so lets get everyone out there and enjoying the great outdoors! Great blog, Brenda…. I have personally really committed to spending more time hiking this summer and puttering in the garden. And I do feel 100% better every time I do!•Posted by Janet Naclia on 06/13/11 at 08:34 AM
You know that I love being outdoors but this was a great reminder of why it is so important. Thanks!!•Posted by Carol Petersen on 06/24/11 at 10:57 AM
Yes I need vitamin N and I am really looking for it all day as my routine is to stay in the house and work all day.
I believe staying in the house and doing exercise is not what is required so we should focus on going out and getting everything from nature, developing our social circle, and staying healthy.•Posted by Damion on 06/26/14 at 12:20 AM
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