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I’d rather notice the seasons changing and feel connected to my environment—even in the winter, even if it’s only for an hour—than be shut up in artificial air and light all day long.

Apparently I’m not alone. Evolutionary psychologists tell us that all humans are subconsciously drawn to nature because of our biology. This love of life and living systems has been dubbed “biophilia” and in 1984, American biologist Edward o. Wilson published a book about it. A series of studies recently found that people expect that being outdoors will be more revitalizing than being indoors. so, now you have an explanation as to why we prefer natural surroundings for vacation spots and why we pay premium prices for homes, hotels, and restaurants with a view. on a practical level, evidence has been piling up for decades that merely being in natural areas such as forests, parks, gardens and beaches restores our bodies and minds.

Nature can even help us recover faster from illness and surgery. For example, people whose hospital rooms had windows offering a view of trees and grass recovered better and faster than those in rooms with a view of only buildings or a brick wall. Nature scenes or sounds have helped people control pain, de-stress, and escape.

Compared with a walk on city streets, walking in parks improved scores on memory tests. What’s so astounding is that it took very little nature to show this difference—even small parks in urban areas, a potted plant or images of natural scenes had a soothing, health-inducing effect. This potential for better mental health and ability crosses all ages. Richard Louv, in his book “Last Child in the Woods” coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe what happens to kids who spend too little time in nature; studies have linked nature with improvements in attention-deficit disorder and outdoor play with academic improvement. In his book for adults he refers to a mind/body/nature connection (“vitamin N”) that enhances physical and mental health.

Imagine what might happen if you combine physical activity with being outdoors! Well, researchers are doing just that. A team of American, Canadian, and german researchers found that compared with exercising indoors, “exercising in natural environments is associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, and increased energy.” (3) They found that exercising outdoors gives us a positive outlook and more vitality— which helps us cope better with all sorts of stressors, including viruses! A study from England suggests that as little as five minutes of exercising
in nature is enough to improve self-esteem and other indicators of positive mental health (4). Is it any wonder that more and more scientists propose that exposure to nature is just as important for our health as exercise and healthy eating?

It’s a lot cheaper to go outside and move than it is to build gyms and a lot of hospitals.”
— Dr. Daphne Miller, family physician, University of California, San Francisco, `Quoted in New York Times 11/29/10

All natural areas, including urban parks, are considered to be beneficial and green areas, and those with pools, streams, lakes, ponds, rivers or ocean water are even more effective. In fact, we like nature so much that it seems we’re more likely to show up for exercise when it’s available outdoors, and we’re more likely to return for more. Whether you’re frazzled by life and need some soothing and calming, or whether your tapped out and need some mental and physical revitalizing, nature rocks! getting your “nature fix” while you get your “fitness” fix is the best kind of multi-tasking.

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