Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Nurturing Nature

Recently, I have been pained to see Illinois’ natural resources on the chopping block of politics.

Ever since I was a child, I have loved being outdoors. There is something soothing to me in the smell of the earth and the multiple shades of green in the canopy of leaves as I lay back. I seem to think better in nature, and I am not alone. I took my daughter and her girl scout troop on a camping trip to an Illinois park a couple of years ago, and I watched in amazement as my girls bloomed and became almost inseparable from the natural world around them.

Across a number of disciplines, researchers have conclusively demonstrated that “conservation can now be viewed as a public health strategy” (Frumkin & Louv, 2007). Contact with nature is related to lower depression, better immune system functioning, lower levels of ADHD behaviors in children, and a host of other benefits. Colleagues and I did some work in the 1990s demonstrating that contact with even small patches of nature is related to more positive functioning for residents of inner city housing complexes. We learned that nature has important benefits for people in their everyday lives across the lifespan, from young children to their grandparents. These studies and many others show that nature isn’t simply part of the background of human existence but is an important thread in the foreground.

What can you do to tap into the benefits of nature for you and those you love?

Spend time outdoors as often as possible. Find enjoyable activities that you can do outside. Some may be solitary activities (reading on a bench, walking, meditating, fishing) while others might integrate others (hiking with a loved one in a state park, sharing a picnic beneath a beautiful tree, playing a game of croquet on your lawn). Protect your skin from the elements, but soak up your daily dose of nature.

Find a place close to your home where you can enjoy nature. Having nature near your home will allow easy access when you have time. You can drop by on the spur of the moment sometimes, maybe when you need a boost.

Plan inexpensive trips to state parks and public natural areas. These make great vacation destinations that can turn our focus away from materialism and toward enjoyment of the environment.

Given the large body of evidence, it is clear that access to nature is the birthright of each of us. We do not have to have a second home on an exclusive wooded lake. The parks that are maintained by our federal government, states, and municipalities are a relatively low-cost investment in our present and future wellbeing. Let’s make use of these resources!
This entry was submitted by Angela Wiley.