Benefits of Nature

 

At Circle of Life Rediscovery we truly believe in nature and how it can be use to power a healthier society. So when we came across this horrific statistic, in the The Week of March 2015, that 26,580 youngsters were admitted to hospital because of self-harm, up from 16,417 a decade ago, we decided to do a bit of research on why we think our society and in particularly youngsters might feel a bit disconnected from the real world. We decided to compare two different approaches to two fundamental concepts 'health' and 'nature'. We focused particularly on the difference between the understanding by Western Societies and Indigenous Societies of those two concepts. This is a snapshot of what we found, read it, share it and comment it on Twitter at @outdoorteacher

 

 

Western Societies defined health according to the WHO definition, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” (WHO, 2015).

Whereas the Aborigines (Indigenous) have a very different way to conceptualise health, it is not something personal, it embraces the whole community. Health is “not just the physical well-being of an individual but refers to the social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole Community in which each individual is able to achieve their full potential as a human being, thereby bringing about the total well-being of their Community.” (Naccho, n.d).

 

 

In Western Societies traditionally nature is understood as a “phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.” (Oxford, 2015).

Again Indigenous have a broader and more inclusive understanding of nature. As we have seen with the Oxford dictionary definition we  (Western Civilization) seem to share “ the idea that humankind, or to be more accurate mankind, is apart from nature ... in contrast to the ‘animistic’ religions of many indigenous peoples, which, to use our terms, see culture in nature and nature in culture.” (Colchester, 1994).

 

 

After giving a brief introduction of how 'health' and 'nature' might be interpreted in different cultures, we explore theories that explain why nature have this incredible restorative power and why it is good for us.

First of all, the psychoevolutionary theory, argues that “Modern human, as a partly genetic remnant of evolution, are biologically prepared for acquiring and retaining restorative responses to certain nature setting and content (vegetation, flowers, water), but have no such disposition for most built environments and their materials.”

The Attention Restoration Theory, which is concerned with “restoration from attentional fatigue”, draws on the psychoevolutionary system and “assume that a person’s ability to direct attention depends on a central inhibitory capacity or mechanism. To focus on something that is not of itself interesting, the person’s ability to inhibit competing stimuli that are more interesting. It takes effort to do this, and the person’s ability to inhibit stimuli will become fatigued”. In other words, living in an environment which does not stimulate naturally our brain (urban environment), will push the brain to produce more stimuli in order to catch-up. This phenomena will result in hostile behaviour such as irritability, reduced self-control and increased error in performance.

Evolution has made us, that we want it or not, animal of the natural world. Human beings have been around as a species for more than 70,000 years and we have started to live in ‘cities’ just 5000 years ago. First cities were very different from the current urban jungle that we know nowadays; urban dwellers at that time were still very much in contact with nature and most of the world population was still living in the countryside. Naturally we are made to be surrounded by nature, our bodies and minds are built to respond to natural settings whereas urban life is stressing our mental subconscious.


Physical benefits:

  • The cost of physical inactivity to the economy in England is calculated to be £8.2 billion per year.
  • 25% of boys and 33% of girls aged between two and 19 are overweight.
  • Allergic cases are on the rise in the UK by 30%.
  • Spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping to protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues.
  • Being out there improves distance vision and lowers the chance of near sightedness.

Mental benefits:

  • Mental Health cost 77 billion £/year to the NHS.
  • In the UK today 44,000 children will swallow anti-depressant pills.
  • Nature appear to improve symptoms of ADHD in children by 30% when compared with urban activities and threefold when compared with the indoor environment.
  • It increases creativity as they engage in more unstructure forms of play in green areas.
  • It enhances cognitive abilities as daily exposure to natural settings increases children’s ability to focus.
  • It improves academic performances Schools with environmental education programs score higher on standardized tests in math, reading, writing and listening.
  • Nature makes you nicer, enhance social interactions, value for community and close relationships.
  • Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.

The ultimate result of our urban society, is that the human species is gradually becoming physically ostracized from the natural world, an unsustainable situation that impact both our mental and physical health. If we want to build a healthy society for our kids it is essential that we give them the opportunities to be outdoor, to understand nature and to interact with it.  

 

Bibliography:

Anon. (n.d) RSPB “Every Child Outdoor”.
Terry Hartig, Richard Mitchell, … (2013) “Nature and Health”.
National Aboriginal Community Control Health Organisation (n.d) http://www.naccho.org.au/aboriginal-health/definitions/
Marcus Colchester (1994) “Salvaging Nature, Indigenous Peoples, Protected Areas and Biodiversity Conservation”.
National Wildlife Federation (n.d) http://www.nwf.org/Be-Out-There/Why-Be-Out-There/Health-Benefits.aspx.
Allergy UK http://www.allergyuk.org/.
World Health Organisation (2015) http://www.who.int/about/definition/en/print.html

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