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Nature & health- a direct connection

Green spaces promote physical, psychological well-being

Created date

September 20th, 2010

The link between nature and health has finally been solidified. British scientists Richard Mitchell, of Glasgow University, and Frank Popham, of the University of St. Andrews, distinguished a direct connection between contact with natural environments and improved health. The scientists studied a total of 41 million people between 2001 and 2005 to determine the links between fatal illnesses and access to green spaces. The evidence of their study shows green spaces have the most positive effects on circulatory health, though they have little effect on lung cancer. Evidence suggests that contact with such environments has independent salutogenic effects, for example, green spaces independently promote physical activity, according to their findings published in the British medical journal The Lancet. However, they also say improved health is not only positively affected by physical activity in natural environments. Several studies have shown that contact (either by presence or visual) with green spaces can be psychologically and physiologically restorative, reducing blood pressure and stress levels and possibly promoting faster healing in patients after surgical intervention, their study says.

Living proof

Don Galvin doesn t need a scientific study to tell him that staying in touch with nature makes him feel good. An amateur photographer since high school, Galvin photographs vacations, family, and landscapes, but he prefers flowers and other natural muses. He carries his Sony digital SLR camera with him on outdoor walks around Cedar Crest, the Pompton Plains community where he and his wife have lived for the past five years. There, he discovers his best subjects: a bee harvesting nectar from a purple coneflower or a family of turtles sunning themselves on lily pads in the community pond. Galvin says he enjoys the beauty and challenge of his favorite pastime. One thing I ve learned about wildlife is as soon as you set up the camera, take the picture, or your shot will disappear. Photography is something I can keep learning, he says, and it fits well with our lifestyle. Cedar Crest is a 130-acre community set alongside the Ramapo Mountains of Pompton Plains. Neighbors wander the landscaped grounds surrounded by trees and flowers. They also have access to a community garden area where many neighbors plant flowers, herbs, and vegetables in the spring, summer, and fall. And a small pond houses turtles, frogs, and herons. It s a prime place for nature photography.

Young again

Nature photography isn t the only outdoor activity that can aid health. Golf, gardening, and simply sitting outside in the sunshine have similar effects on mental and physical wellbeing. According to Richard Louv, author of critically acclaimed Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, The same benefits that come to children from nature also come to adults almost immediately: reduced stress, accentuated senses, and increased attention span. The bottom line is it s not a bitter pill. [Getting outside] is something that s fun that makes us all healthier and stimulates our bodies and our minds and our souls. Nobody loses; everybody gains.