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The original item was published from 6/11/2018 3:07:35 PM to 6/29/2018 9:23:22 AM.

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Parks & Rec - News

Posted on: June 11, 2018

[ARCHIVED] The 5-Minute Nature Fix: Nature's Medicine

Grassland at Kosch Headwaters Preserve

The pace of modern life can take a toll, and  in this digital age, we are busier than ever – texting while crossing the street, taking an important call while hustling the kids out the door.  Multitasking our way through a steady stream of small stressors that can leave our brains awash with adrenaline and cortisol.  At the end of the day, we may feel irritable and exhausted.  

Now imagine for a moment that you are walking in a park without a screen in front of you, surrounded by bird song and trees.  You feel the wind blowing on your cheek and you look up to see the clouds drift across the sky.  A sweep of purple flowers catches your eye and as you inhale the lovely scent of spring violets, you notice that you seem to feel better about your life, more energetic and less stressed.  

This is not your imagination.  Time in nature has a powerful effect on our brains and bodies.  According to Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix, Japanese researchers have shown that during a nature hike in a cypress forest, our heart rate slows, our blood pressure drops, our stress hormones dip, and our brains put out more alpha waves which make us feel calm and alert.

Nature dispenses this anti-stress medicine with surprising speed.  Researchers in England, Jo Barton and Jules Pretty, published a paper titled, “What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis,” and found that the greatest boost to mood and self-esteem occurs within the first five minutes of light activity outdoors.  The strongest effects occurred in watery habitats and in young people, so consider taking the kids out to the creek to get muddy!  Also, walking in a group seems to have a particularly uplifting effect for those with depression.  (Did you know Washtenaw County Parks offers free guided nature hikes?  Check out our calendar for upcoming hikes near you.)

Science is still unravelling why nature has this wonderfully relaxing effect on us.  It may be the slower pace of walking is a speed that works for our brains. It may be the simple quiet. Florence Williams goes on to say, “hearing develops before vision in the womb. It is our dominant sense when it comes to sudden threats. It tells us something is out there and from which direction it’s coming, triggering our strongest startle reaction.”  The bracing smell of the forest also could be a factor.  Or is it the beauty we see – the soft focus of sunsets and butterflies – that invites us to wander, rest, and recover?

It seems inevitable that when we give nature a chance to pour into all of our senses, it will restore our spirits and our health.  In the timeless words of Rachel Carson: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”  It is easy to get lost in the beauty and gentle harmonies of nature, and there we find ourselves again.

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