Why Nature Is Good For Us

by Suzanne Ruggles

Nature is good for us. This may seem obvious, but science is now actually studying this quantitatively, and coming up with surprising, although obvious findings.

Richard Louv, in “Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder”, links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s children to some of the most disturbing childhood trends including attention-deficit disorder, obesity, and depression. Furthermore, environment based education and time spent in nature improves test scores across the board, improves problem-solving skills, increases communication and conflict resolution skills, improves decision making skills, and increases creativity. Children as young as five years of age show a reduction in the symptoms of ADD after experiences in nature. Children who play outdoors are more  cooperative and are better at creating their own games. Children who experience outdoor education behave better in class, they have respect for themselves and the environment, and they have positive relationships with their peers. One student wrote “For the past few months, I’ve found myself unmotivated. I almost felt a disconnection from myself because I couldn’t take the time to think. When I sat down in nature to write this weekend, I found myself reconnected, my insides and outsides.”

Even as an adult, I suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder. My yard is almost as natural a yard as I have ever seen, but still, I long for vast untamed nature where the wild things roam – where I can be surprised by things I don’t normally see in the human world like salamanders or owls or meadowlarks or deer – where the big blue sky meets the trees far, far in the distance – where I can see as far as I can see without even thinking of buildings or roads or electricity or cars – and where the whisper of the grasses and the leaves speaks to me – where I can be with my creator and my mother earth and drink in the peace and the strength and the wisdom and the serenity that she feeds me through every pore.

Thomas Berry said, “If we don’t have certain outer experiences, we don’t have certain inner experiences. Humans need a world of beauty in order to give us the healing we need. We are genetically encoded to exist in a world of beauty. …. The greatest, deepest tragedy of losing the splendor of the natural world is that we will always have an inner demand for it. The harm done to the natural world diminishes the human world, because the human world depends on the natural world — and not only for physical resources, but also for psychic development and fulfillment.”

In Resurgence Magazine, July/August 2004, in “Why Nature is Good for Us,” David Nicholson-Lord writes “Nature is the most powerful source of those feelings that persuade us that life is worth living.” “Divinity remains integral to our experience of nature. … It’s as though the breaking down of boundaries between the observer and the observed connects the individual to a vast reservoir of energy and meaning, through which the person’s own life is given new direction and significance. Nature, with its mystery, dread and beauty, is the source and seat of this energy.”

“Take Two Trees and Call Me in the Morning”, exclaimed Organic Style Magazine, in September 2002. Spending just a few minutes in a space with some trees, they say, improves concentration, helps problem solving, and lowers blood pressure.

In an article called “Take Two Hikes and Call me in the Morning” (National Wildlife Magazine, February March 2005), Beth Baker writes, “Scientists are discovering that our species love of plants, animals and wilderness – hardwired during the course of evolution — has positive effects on human health”. Breast cancer patients recover faster and better when they spend half an hour a day listening to and watching birds or strolling through a park. Employees with window views have lower levels of job stress and better overall well-being. Patients in a study who underwent bronchoscopy reported feeling less pain after spending time viewing nature or listening to a babbling brook. Patients, prisoners, and workers, in study after study, have shown that even viewing a picture of nature lowers blood pressure and eases muscle tension. “Engaging with the natural world has restorative, calming effects, while, conversely, living in a sprawl of asphalt, steel and concrete heightens anxiety and stress.”

Some doctors who are treating rape victims, emotionally disturbed children, and cancer patients are even offering their patients “wilderness therapy.”

Gall bladder patients in the U.S. require less pain medication if their hospital windows overlook trees rather than brick walls. Inner city residents who have nature in their neighborhoods show lower levels of aggression and violence. Workers in buildings that contain plant life concentrate better and feel less anxious.

In World Watch Magazine, in the September/October 2007 issue: “Biodiversity Can Provide Mental Health Benefits” by Alana Herro: “Researchers found that visitors to city parks with a greater diversity of birds, butterflies, plants, and other organisms reported feeling better than visitors to less diverse green spaces.”

Each of us knows this. Nature is adventure and discovery and this is possible because of its seemingly infinite diversity. We can’t just save the rain forest or the wetlands or the lakes or the grasslands, we have the whole earth to save, we have our whole island to save, we have our own backyards to save, and we have to save all of it. We have to save all of it, every tree, every tree cavity, every nest; every blade of grass, every owl, every salamander.

My cousin, Mary Johnston, said recently “Vast amounts of legislation have been put in place to make sure that we keep the balance between human destruction of, and protection of, our environment. But at this point in history, so many of the decisions have favored human “progress”, that from now on, in order to keep the balance, the environment has to win every fight.”

“The Holy Land is everywhere” — Black Elk