In our increasingly urbanized world, it turns out that a little green can go a long way toward improving our health, not just that of the planet.
That could mean something as simple as a walk in the park or just a tree viewed through a window. It’s not necessarily the exercise that is the key. It’s the refreshing contact with nature and its uncomplicated demands on us.
Here is how it works: Modern life — commuting, computing, paying taxes — can place a burden on our brains and bodies. In recent years, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Landscape and Human Health Laboratory and elsewhere have compiled evidence that suggests that a connection to nature is vital to our psychological and physical health because it helps recharge our brains so that we’re better able to cope with the stresses in life.
I live on five acres of land in a semi-rural area, but I still get most of my exercise at the gym or in my house, rather than spending time outdoors working with the land. Now the Wii gives you the opportunity to play all of your outdoor sports at home, using computerized equipment. I’ve been writing that technology is changing the human brain, and I would think that the less we interact with the natural world the more we facilitate that alteration.
In a 2001 study detailed in the journal Environment and Behavior, Kuo and her colleagues surveyed parents of children aged 7 to 12 who had been diagnosed with an Attention Deficit Disorder. They asked the parents to rate activities that seemed to alleviate their child’s symptoms and which seemed to aggravate them.
They found the children functioned better after a “green” activity (i.e. one that likely took place in a natural setting, such as fishing or soccer) than a “non-green” one (such as watching TV or playing video games).
Kuo and her colleagues think the improvement stems from nature’s ability to capture our attention involuntarily, giving the hard-working, overtaxed part of our brain used to voluntarily focus our attention on more demanding tasks a break, essentially allowing it to recharge
Maybe I’ll go out and take a long walk today and make my dog AND my brain very happy. :)