Whole food plant-based eating is key to our health. Exercise, adequate sleep and getting outdoors in nature are also important factors for a healthy life.
It's so important to give our minds and bodies a break from our ever busier, technology driven world by taking daily doses of laughter, mindfulness and nature. Here's some thoughts on how to accomplish this healthful habit.
I still recall a Friday evening as we completed a 19 mile bike ride to Old Stonebridge near Mercersburg PA – we were treated to a beautifully spreading and glowing sunset, lighting up the clouds with azures, rose, violet, orange and golden edges. I felt my mood soaring. Later as I sat down to my computer again – revisiting the irksome website I had been working on earlier in the day – even then my mood remained elated. It wasn’t just the endorphins of the exercise that did this; it was the 2 hours of immersion into the out of doors – our beautiful rolling hills, fields, streams, woods, mountain views.
My experience gave me some further insight into the term “Nature Deficit Disorder”, coined by child advocacy expert Richard Louv in his book “Last Child in the Woods”. He points out that getting out into nature is actually key to the developing brain, mobility and agility, and remains important to adult mental and physical health. Anyone who takes a nice walk outdoors over lunch-break, will tell you that they come back refreshed from the morning’s work and energized for the afternoon. The exercise is great for your heart, lungs, brains, bones, and joints, and it goes beyond that; the mindfulness of the daylight, the fresh air, the views, the sights and sounds around – debrief us from the busy work morning, relax us, refresh us. Not only does it make us work more efficiently in the afternoon, the physiologic benefits of stress reduction are well known. In a presentation to the American Academy of Pediatrics*, Mr. Louv included some interesting facts from research on nature’s role in our growth and wellbeing:
Play in natural environments is associated with young children’s improved motor abilities and increased creativity.
Contact with the natural world appears to significantly reduce symptoms of attention deficit disorder in children (and adults as well)
Nearby nature, and even a view of nature from a bedroom or classroom window, can reduce stress in children
Older children who spend more time outside are generally more physically active and have a lower prevalence of overweight
Spending time outdoors seems to help prevent myopia. (near sightedness)
Access to nature nurtures self-discipline and self-confidence among children, including children with disabilities.
Natural environments, such as parks, help children learn. (think about the Johnston Run Streamside Trail and wonderful learning experiences at our Summer in the Park program, TWEP, the Academy's outdoor programs)
Hospitals that have gardens and flowerbeds note improved wellbeing in staff and patients.
Natural environments foster recovery from mental fatigue
Green exercise offers added benefits when compared to equal exertion in indoor gyms. (balance, reflexes, foot/eye coordination)
Playing, including play in nature, is more compelling and inviting to most kids and adult caregivers than ‘exercise.’
Unfortunately, there's an increasing lack of nature in the lives of today's wired generation. Mr. Louv describes this as "Nature Deficit Disorder"; he directly links this to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, diabetes, attention disorders, and depression.
Think of when you were a child. On weekends we left the house in the morning and road the neighborhood on bikes, explored streams, climbed trees. Remember the delight and amazement of finding a birds nest, spying a box turtle hidden in the garden, gathering brightly colored leaves; we collected acorns, rocks, feathers, shells from our nature trips – and made a “natural science center” at home.
In one generation we have dramatically shifted away from that exploring, adventure, creativity, and fresh air, to a world focused on hand held devices, Aps and screens – at home, at school, at work. We’re connected to the internet and disconnected from the outside world.
We can blame technology, but behind every screen-dominant upbringing is an overly cautious parent. Understandably, we want to protect our kids from “out there” variables; but as a result we’ve created a divide in our lives from nature. The more we get back out doors and preserve it in our yards and our communities, the more we recapture security as well as key health benefits.
One might think that kids and adults can “travel” further and see more with computers and TV. One can look at pictures from the Appalachian Trail, but that’s nothing like hiking up there, marveling at the rock formations and seeing the vast views of the valleys. One can look at a picture of stream, but that’s not the same as like sitting there, listening to the stream and the rustling of the wind and birds in the trees, or catching a glimpse of a curious critter out of the corner of your eye. One can look at a field of wild flowers, but that’s nothing like standing in it, watching bees, monarchs, humming birds and other pollinators busily at work. Interestingly – they are actually harvesting in their garden, and creating the seeds for their next year’s food supply. Listen intently and you can hear the flap of a butterfly’s wings – honest! Further, if we only explore the world in photos or in virtual reality, our non- involvement in the real world of nature causes us to not see its changes, pollution and degradation; we are risking losing it. Enjoy some of these (and there are many more) outdoor activities:
Explore local parks, lakes, streams – look under the rocks in the stream for salamanders and craw fish
Plant a garden and let the kids dig in it; it will boost their immune systems and they’ll learn where real food comes from.
Plant pollinator gardens – be on the route of the monarch migration
Keep your yard natural with habitat for critters and trees for fresh air.
Take the kids for a hike on mountain trail and let them see how really vast our valleys and views are.
Explore bike trails and get a broader look at your neighborhood and surroundings. In Mercersburg enjoy the MPMC bike routes with amazing views of our beautiful countryside and history. (Maps available around town and at mpmcproject.org)
When you’re out be really mindful of the sights, smells, sounds, textures, laughter – be careful not to view this just through the lens of your mobile device.
Grow a healthy microbiome with outdoors work and play, and a WFPB lifestyle!
The 2020 "Play & Grow" study exposed preschool children to activities in nature over 10 weeks. The study showed that this outdoor time translate into observable and meaningful improvements in children's lives. Of note the diversity of their gut microbiomes increased, higher serotonin levels were found. Also, they enjoyed eating more vegetables. And significantly they showed more prosocial behavior and less frequent outbursts of frustration.
When you’re out be really mindful of the sights, smells, sounds, textures, laughter – be careful not to view this just through the lens of your mobile device. Perhaps, if we each enrich our well being with daily doses of laughter, mindfulness and nature, we can have a world with joy, awareness of each moment, and a commitment to a sustainable Earth. *http://richardlouv.com/blog/grow-outside-keynote-address-to-the-american-academy-of-pediatrics-national/