Thursday, May 05, 2011

Nature nurture

As I was driving out into the Gatineau hills yesterday on my way to a retreat centre, I happened to be listening to a documentary on the CBC about how nature shapes our brains –and how its absence can undermine our health.

Even without the reports of stress invoked by the concrete jungle, I likely would have felt that familiar relief upon leaving the city and driving into a landscape of green forests and rolling hills. I think we all know instinctively that it is so much better for us to be out here, breathing in the clean air, walking on unpaved roads, listening to the sounds of nature.

The documentary reminded me of a similar report I read a few months ago that looked at how children benefit by spending time outdoors. Some schools are working to integrate gardening and extra outdoor playtime and have found this greatly improves things like concentration, mood, energy, and learning.

An article I read today referred to a study in which students were told to take a walk either on downtown streets or in an arboretum. They were then given a battery of tests and the downtown walkers were found to be in worse moods and with lower levels of attention and short-term memory. I’m not surprised.

The meeting I was in today were long – at times tense, at times boring. When we had a mid-morning break I left the building and saw a small footbridge not far away. I crossed onto it and stood looking down at the small stream flowing beneath. Then I continued on across, walking on damp mossy ground. Not far away was a smaller bridge and then the path began to climb into a forest.

Buds are just appearing on the trees and the forest floor was a mix of dead autumn leaves and new growth. Up ahead I saw a big old tree, its thick twisted branches silhouetted against the pale sky. I walked up to it and stood awhile, just resting my hand on its rough, gnarled trunk. Sounds corny, but I felt almost overwhelmed with gratitude.

What the science is starting to tell us, we already know in our hearts.


  1. One of the biggest things I miss about having a dog is that escape to nature every day. no matter how busy I was, how stressed, sad, grumpy or angry, I would walk in the park with her every day after work and feel wonderful

  2. I listened to this too and was reminded how important it is to get outside. So interesting. The scientist who was quoted, Esther Sternburg is very interesting and I listened to a podcast about a year ago of her research on stress and illness.