Nurture your mind with nature

Once a favorite pastime, spending time outside in nature is becoming a thing of the past for many Americans.

“Nearly half of the US population does not participate in any outdoor recreation at all, and only 17.9 percent got outside at least once a week in 2018,” Outside the magazine reported, citing a 2019 study by the Outdoor Foundation. “The result? One billion fewer hikes, climbs, rides and other outdoor excursions in 2018 than in 2008. Even kids are staying inside. Kids participated in 15 percent fewer outdoor activities in 2018 than they did six years before.

“The study suggests that barriers such as work, technology and access costs prevent individuals from playing outside.'[The study] indicates that we are becoming an indoor nation, says Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Outdoor Foundation, the philanthropic extension of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). ‘People are missing out on the joy, learning and community building that the outdoors can provide. Whether you bike, hike, ski, hunt, run or fish, it’s a lost opportunity.’”

Although most people agree that getting outside for a breath of fresh air is a good idea, very few do. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend a whopping 87 percent of their time indoors and another 6 percent inside vehicles. This leaves a paltry 7 percent of time spent outdoors.

This trend is not limited to Americans. According to a UK wildlife survey commissioned by Jordan Cereals, almost 70 per cent of Britons described themselves as losing touch with nature, with almost one in seven saying they had not visited the country for two years.

These results are eye-opening. More could be cited for other parts of the world. And keep in mind that the above studies were before the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced people to spend even more time indoors than they had previously. If such studies were to be redone today, the numbers would reflect an even more significant disconnect with the natural world.

Remember that Mrs. Aangeenbrug mentioned spending time in nature as an option. This means an advantage to those who take advantage of it. Merriam-Webster defines opportunity as “a favorable time of circumstances” and “a good chance for advancement or progress.”

Over time, people have lost touch with nature and its wonders. Many may not realize the potential for favor and advancement that time outdoors holds. We will explore several inspiring ways that spending time in nature can improve your life.

Stress reduction

Studies have shown that living in a city is a risk factor for developing a mental disorder, while living close to nature benefits mental health. A central brain region involved in stress processing, the amygdala, has been shown to be less active under stress in people who live in rural areas compared to those who live in cities.

“But until now the chicken-and-egg problem could not be disentangled, namely whether nature actually caused the effects in the brain or whether the particular individuals chose to live in rural or urban areas,” Sonja Sudimac, a predoctoral fellow in the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience and lead author of a new study, stated.

To obtain causal evidence, researchers from this team examined brain activity in regions involved in stress processing in 63 healthy volunteers before and after a one-hour walk in the Grunewald forest or a busy shopping street in Berlin using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The study’s results revealed that activity in the amygdala decreased after the outdoor walk, suggesting that nature elicits beneficial effects on brain regions related to stress.

“The results support the previously hypothesized positive relationship between nature and brain health, but this is the first study to prove causation. Interestingly, brain activity after the urban walk in these regions remained stable and did not show increases, contradicting a common belief that exposure in the cities cause additional stress,” explained Simone Kuhn, head of the Lise Meitner group.

The authors showed that nature positively affects brain regions involved in stress processing and can already be observed after just an hour’s walk. Even brief exposure to natural surroundings decreases amygdala activity, suggesting that a walk outdoors may serve as a preventive measure against the development of mental health problems and dampen the potentially adverse effects of the city on the brain.

The results are consistent with a previous study from 2017 i Scientific reports that showed that urban dwellers who lived close to the forest had a physiologically healthier amygdala structure and were presumably better able to cope with stress.

Peace and productivity

Further research shows that the benefits of soaking in the great outdoors go far beyond stress reduction.

A Human Spaces report found that in addition to making us physically healthier, 15 percent of employees experienced a higher level of well-being, a 15 percent increase in creativity, and a 6 percent increase in productivity due to exposure to natural elements during the run of the working day.

The study found that exposure to nature not only makes us feel better, it also makes us more efficient.

On the other hand, those with less access to nature often experience physical and psychological problems. A Johns Hopkins University study found that childhood asthma sufferers experienced 20 percent more symptomatic days for every 1,000 feet they were from a green space compared to those living next to them.

Additionally, a collection of studies published by The conversation found that urban residents in Australia have a 39 percent higher risk of mood disorders and a 21 percent increased risk of anxiety disorders compared to their rural counterparts.

It is clear that our exposure to nature directly affects our health. Losing touch with it seems to have negative effects. In contrast, regular exposure improves our general well-being and according to Business Insidercan even lower our mortality by up to 12 percent.

Nutrition

Losing touch with nature can ultimately have a detrimental effect on our survival as a species. Urbanization and separating ourselves from the natural environment makes us forget where our sustenance comes from.

Directly linked to our overall health is the food we eat. In any society knowledge of what food is and is does not passed down from generation to generation. What, where and how to extract essential nutrients from our natural environment are all matters of survival and are increasingly being outsourced to large corporations. Individually being unable to identify, grow or harvest food in its natural state is increasing and can be a major problem.

Daily Express published a survey in which 65 per cent of Britons aged 25 and under did not know what a pruner was, while a striking 10 per cent under 35 were unfamiliar with a hose – both of which are essential to gardening. Even more shocking is that 77 percent had never grown vegetables in a garden.

In a later study conducted in Australia, 92 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 17 did not know that bananas grew on trees, 50 percent did not know that beets grew in the ground, and 75 percent could not identify a radish or a leek, according to News.com.au.

“It’s a shame that so many Australian children seem ignorant of where fresh fruit and vegetables come from, especially in a country that is home to such beautiful and delicious produce,” world-famous chef Jamie Oliver told the media.

Some have tried to take on the task of educating people about their food. Yet the issue of food ignorance continues to grow. Parents are increasingly unable to pass on this vital survival information to the next generation.

Lack of understanding of nature and the food that comes from it is becoming an issue of global proportions. As the human population explodes past 8 billion and our arable land continues to decline, so does our food supply. The Guardian reported in 2015 that over the previous four decades, “nearly 33% of the world’s adequate or high-quality food-producing land has been lost at a rate that far outstrips the pace of natural processes to replace depleted land.”

Conversely, immersing oneself in nature and learning about proper food and nutrition will open the door to robust health that cannot be achieved in any other way.

God’s purpose

The idea that man is bound to nature is not new. In the Bible it says in Genesis 2:7 that man was created from the “dust of the ground”. God instructed the first humans to “dress and preserve” the surrounding environment (2:15) and to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (1:28).

Humanity had to work and cultivate the land for food while guarding and protecting the integrity of plants and animals. Logically, the way to achieve all this most effectively and efficiently is by having a rich understanding of nature. This becomes possible only by learning and appreciating the different, intricate and essential natural beauty that surrounds us.

The apostle Paul added: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead” (Rom. 1:20).

God, the Creator of the planet, nature, and humanity, clearly wants the people he created to spend time in the natural world he also designed. He the design us to enjoy the time in nature. This is one aspect of how He “fearfully and wonderfully made” us (Ps. 139:14).

Wise King Solomon wrote, “The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun” (Ecclesiastes 11:7, New American Standard Version). it is well so that you can get outdoors, away from the stale air and artificial light in your home or office. It starts with making a conscious effort to increase the amount of time you spend outside each day.

If you haven’t taken the time to connect with Creation, it’s not too late. Commit to starting a small garden in your backyard next spring or tending to a hanging pot in your kitchen. Make a plan to visit a botanical garden. In the coming days, promise to visit a local park or just take a walk around your neighborhood to get in touch with fresh air and trees. Try an outdoor sport like tennis or basketball or an outdoor hobby like fishing or bird watching.

These are just a few ways you can regularly incorporate contact with your natural surroundings.

We have seen that an hour’s period in nature can make a big difference. But if fitting this into your schedule is challenging, even a small commitment can help. Environmental science and technology reported that “even small doses of outdoor exercise can have remarkable effects on mental health … In a meta-analysis of 10 studies, [Jules Pretty and Jo Barton of the University of Essex] found that getting outside – and moving – for as little as five minutes at a time improved both mood and self-esteem.”

So come outside! Start with five minutes and work up from there. Increase your health and well-being by doing what God designed you to do – connect with nature.

To learn even more about achieving vibrant health, read our free booklet God’s Principles for Healthy Living.

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