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Culpeper Times • May 26-June 1, 2016
HOME & GARDEN Nature as medicine WILD IDEAS Pam Owen
Having a passion for nature can be rewarding in many ways, but now scientists studying the relatively new discipline of “environmental psychology” (aka “ecopsychology”) are finding that being out in nature has real
health benefits. As an article in the June issue of “University of California, Berkeley, Wellness Letter” puts it, nature offers “medicine for the mind.” The article cites studies that show that “green exercise” — just walking in nature — can give people “increased vitality (physical and mental energy) and a greater sense of well-being” over walking inside. Walking through forests, according to some researchers, can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate and improve immune function for hours, or even
days. Ever have a sense of awe when viewing some sweeping landscape, or just seeing a bear going about its business? That awe that nature inspires can make us feel part of something bigger, says the article. Or, according to the University of Minnesota (UM) website that awe gives us a sense of “meaningfulness.” For me, it doesn’t take a view of the Grand Canyon to put me in awe of nature. Just finding the brightly colored millipede I featured in my last column, or a somewhat water-soaked, flowerlike mushroom growing in the yard — or mantis nymphs emerging from their egg sac — brought an involuntary “wow!” from my mouth. Research indicates that experiencing nature may lower levels of chemicals that affect systemic inflammation, reduce muscle tension and the production of stress hormones, increase the attention span of children with ADHD and, as the UM website put it, “may even reduce mortality” from some diseases or conditions. Researchers studying dementia
have also found that access to nature can “play a key role in restoring a sense of purpose, unlocking memories from the past, bringing meaning to patients’ experiences and providing a calming affect for people living with dementia,” according to an article on the UK National Health Service website. Nature can improve cognitive function in young people, too. A study about creativity in the wild, published in the journal “Plos”, found that several days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multimedia and technology, increased performance on a creativity, problem-solving task “by a full 50 percent” in a group of young adults. Pointing to new research, Richard Louv, author “Last Child in the Woods,” said in an interview for National Geographic that nature is a “good antidote” for depression, ADD, physical health, child obesity and the epidemic of inactivity. Nature can also distract us from our pain and discomfort, as I’ve found in my own experience battling
fibromyalgia and arthritis, both of which can make it hard for me to get out of bed some days. But I’ve learned that just a short walk in the woods that surrounds my house in the morning, or when I start to lag during the afternoon, can ease pain and clear the brain fog I often experience, enabling me to on with my work and enjoy my life. So next time you think you have too much to do, are feeling lousy or just don’t seem to have the energy to drag your butt off the couch, think about taking a dose of “ecotherapy.” If you’re new to experiencing the glory of the outdoors and leery of its challenges (rugged terrain, rashcausing plants, biting insects or larger, fearsome-looking critters, etc.) — or want to deepen your knowledge and appreciation of nature — take advantage of the many guided nature walks and other activities regularly offered nearby. On June 4, join Shenandoah National Park and nearby state ➤ See Wild, Page 9
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