Prescription for health is: nature

Do you want to be happier, healthier, and smarter? I have just the prescription for you: add a daily dose of nature to your routine.

Do you want to be happier, healthier, and smarter? I have just the prescription for you: add a daily dose of nature to your routine.

Over the past decade, researchers from fields as diverse as biology, psychiatry, engineering, horticulture, neuroscience, and medicine have realized what most of us know intuitively: nature is good for our health and wellbeing. These experts have discovered countless links between time spent outdoors and cognitive, physical, and emotional development.

Studies show that enjoying a natural setting – like a park, beach, wetland, or forest – can reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and stress levels. Exposure to nature can help you sleep well and increase vigour and liveliness. It can even boost your immune system.

In their new book Your Brain on Nature, naturopath Alan Logan and Harvard physician Eva Selhub cite dozens of studies that demonstrate the health benefits of the natural world. They even refer to outdoor physical activity as “exercise squared” because it can increase energy and fitness levels while reducing fatigue, depression, and obesity.

Melissa Lem, a family doctor and member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, says exposure to nature is vitally important for kids. She suggests that time spent with flora and fauna is essential for healthy psychological and physical development in children. In a recent Docs Talk column she points to studies that show daily doses of “green time” can be used to prevent and treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, hypertension, and diabetes. Ailments like myopia, asthma, and depression have also been linked to inadequate nature exposure.

While this scientific body of evidence is fascinating and growing quickly, most of us remain unaware of the full range of health benefits that nature provides. And with more than 80 per cent of Canadians now living in urban settings, many of us lack a meaningful, regular connection with the natural environment that sustains us. Getting in touch with the outdoors has another great benefit: those who know and love nature work harder to protect it.

This is why the David Suzuki Foundation is about to launch its first ever 30×30 Challenge. Starting June 1, we’re inviting Canadians to spend at least 30 minutes in nature each day for 30 days. By encouraging people to get a regular dose of fresh air we hope to help participants take advantage of the many health benefits nature has to offer. They might even make it part of their continuing daily practice.

Join the 30×30 Challenge beginning June 1 and incorporate small natural diversions into your daily routine for a month. Add some green to your commute, lunch break, workout schedule, or playtime. And remember, a daily dose of nature is good for your head, heart, and health.