Did you know that a house plant can make you feel good? And that trees can lower the murder rate in a city? Forest bathing in Japan is a cancer prevention therapy sponsored by the government, while poets and writers all send their heroes out into nature whenever there is a problem.
The latest book by Florence Williams, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, shows us that modern technology is now revealing what goes on in our brains when we step outdoors—and why nature is so good for us.
We summarized the 5 most important theories you can learn from Florence Williams:
1. Think of the Romantic poets & writers like Wordsworth, Coleridge or Rousseau and novelists like Jane Austen, whose heroines always go marching out when they’re upset or need to work something out. Why not do the same: Problems, thoughts and ideas are better taken care of in nature.
2. Think of the tremendous benefits to being in places that aren’t crowded or dirty, that are more pastoral, like the Alps. The alpine tour took off in the late 18th century to early 19th century. What was unique about it was that it wasn’t about finding peace in God or finding religion. It was about this more immediate connection to nature and how that spurred our spiritual imagination, how being in more rural, natural environments makes us whole as humans. Plan your next vacation to a natural site that inspires you.
3. Neuroscientists, especially in the UK and US, are starting to look at how people’s brains respond to different environments. Volunteers who are walking through a city or a noisy area have different brain functions than if they are walking in a park. The frontal lobe, the part of our brain that’s hyper-engaged in modern life, deactivates a little when you are outside. Alpha waves, which indicate a calm but alert state, grow stronger. When psychologists talk about flow, there seems to be a lot of alpha engagement there. Buddhist monks, meditators, are also great at engaging alpha waves.If you really need a break, take a walk in the park so your brain gets a different kind of stimulation.
4. In Japan, forest bathing is financially supported by the government. Forest bathing refers to being in an environment where all your senses are engaged. Something researchers in Japan recognized about urban life is that when we are indoors we rely mostly on our eyes and ears, but our other senses are underutilized. They think this is partly related to why outdoor environments make our stress levels go down. We can hear the sound of a creek gurgling, feel the wind blowing on our cheeks or smell the aroma of the woods, especially in Japan where there are lots of wondrous cypress trees. The health benefits of forest bathing is immense as our immune cells, or “natural killer cells,” which fight cancer, increase in forests. As a result, Japan now has 48 therapy trails. The forest service is taking this seriously, as a public health benefit. They’re medicalizing the forest! Create your own health therapy and do health bathing at least once a week.
5. How can you incorporate more time outdoors into your daily life? Build a nature pyramid which is the idea that nature is something we have every day. A little bit of nature is helpful; a little more nature is even more helpful. If we think about how to access a little bit of nature in our daily lives, that’s a great start: house plants, going for walks on streets with trees and, as you move further up the pyramid, making an effort maybe once a month to go to a nature preserve or park outside the city and do forest bathing as often as you can. Build your nature pyramid like you did with you food pyramid and see how it works for a month. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Book tip: Florence Williams, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative