Do you or your child spend enough time outdoors and in nature?
In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe the loss of connection that human beings, especially children, increasingly feel with the natural environment. This disorder is not recognized by the medical establishment for mental disorders; however, it is a term to elicit a loss of communion with nature and other living beings. Louv claims that nature deficit disorder affects the “health, spiritual well-being, and many other areas, including people’s ability to feel ultimately alive.”
According to Louv, the causes of the disorder include parental fears, loss of open space due to urbanization, and increasing consumption of electronic media. Parents are afraid for their child’s safety of visits to natural places or spending time outdoors due to excessive media coverage of violent events. They would rather keep children indoors and playing on the computer or watching TV, rather than outdoors for imaginative play and exploration. The average American child (perhaps also adult) spends 40-50 hours a week with electronic media.
Heavy consumption of electronic media diminishes the child’s ability to connect to nature. Children who do not spend enough time outdoors are more prone to anxiety, depression and attention-deficit problems. According to a University of Illinois study, interaction with nature has proven to reduce symptoms of ADD in children. “Overall, our findings indicate that exposure to ordinary natural settings in the course of common after-school and weekend activities may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit symptoms in children”.
In addition to ADD and mood disorders, lower grades in school also seem to be related to nature deficit disorder. Louv claims that “studies of students in California and nationwide show that schools that use outdoor classrooms and other forms of experiential education produce significant student gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math”.
Nature is a good antidote to many of our problems and also serves as a balancing agent. The more high-tech our lives become, the more time we need to spend outdoors connecting with nature, for our health and spiritual well-being.
Benefits of Connecting With Nature
Research conducted around the world have shown the following benefits of connecting with nature:
- People in hospitals who can see a natural landscape have been shown to get better faster.
- Young people who backpacked for three days showed higher creativity and cognitive abilities.
- Subjects with moderate-severe depression who participated in a horticultural program experienced reduced symptoms after 12 weeks.
- The incredible physiological effects of being outdoors—including increased immune activity and less perceived effort during exercise.
- People who walked on an outdoor track moved at a faster pace, perceived less exertion, and experienced more positive emotions than those who walked on an indoor treadmill.
- Subjects who walked through a rural area viewed their to-do list as more manageable than those who walked on city streets.
- Just looking at a natural scene activates parts of the brain associated with balance and happiness.
- Negative ions—particles that are plentiful near waterfalls, breaking waves, and river rapids—can act as natural antidepressants. An Indoor Air study found that after breathing negative ions for an hour, subjects’ blood lactate levels dropped 33 percent, improving their energy levels.
- Women who spent two to four hours in the woods on two consecutive days experienced a nearly 50 percent increase in the activity of cancer-fighting white blood cells.