Do you have a nature deficit?

It’s so easy to forget that human beings are actually animals that have been evolving over many millions of years, yet the changes to our lifestyle and environment in the last few decades have changed how we live in unimaginable ways. The changes have brought about many amazing benefits, comforts and privileges, but they’ve come at a price that we might not even be aware of.

Nature Deficit Disorder is a non-medical term for the health problems we can face by spending our time indoors instead of being out in nature, where our bodies and brains evolved. In fact, it’s been estimated that people in developed countries spend 90% of their time indoors.

What’s wrong with being indoors?

§  Air Pollution – The EPA has found that the air in our homes contains huge amounts of chemical pollutants in the air which off-gas from cleaning products, paints, furniture, clothes, mattresses, and electronic gadgets. The levels are worse than even the most polluted cities outdoors.

§  Sedentary Living – With all the furniture to sit on and gadgets to play with, we’re amazingly sedentary when we’re indoors. Research has shown, quite shockingly, that sitting too much is as unhealthy as smoking.

§  Light – The issue of light indoors is twofold. Not only are we missing out on the benefits of natural light which gives us vitamin D, boost our mood and prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but we’re also being exposed to artificial light from screens, which disrupts our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms and sleep cycles.

What are the benefits of getting out into nature?

§  Immune function – Japan has a practice called Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), a method of sending stressed out businesspeople and others in search of healing to spend time in nature. A study on participants showed that after three days in the woods, natural killer cells (a vital part of the immune system) went up 40% and were still elevated by 15% a month later.

§  Stress – Another study showed lower pulse rate, lower cortisol and higher parasympathetic nerve activity. All of these factors lead to a feeling of wellbeing and improved mental health.

§  Healing – Patients with a hospital view of leafy green trees heal faster and need less pain medication than those without a natural view. Check out NHS Forest for more fascinating research.

Maybe the most interesting thing about all this is that we don’t yet really understand all the different factors involved in how our bodies interact with nature. It’s was only recently discovered that phytoncides (a type of volatile oil given off by trees) are inhaled and somehow boost our immunity.  Even with all this research, perhaps we haven’t grasped how important it is for us to reconnect with nature in a real way for our physical and mental health. Maybe being in natural environments is as important to our health as food, water, and air.

For a Twitter campaign on spreading awareness about Nature Deficit Disorder, use the hashtag #beatNDD and say hello! @bwoodhighland

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