Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The Nature Fix

Suttie points to a recent book from Florence Williams, also reviewed by Jason Mark, that I would like to be able to slow down enough to actually read, rather than just doing a slightly amplified tweet. 

From Suttie:
...researchers in Finland found that even short walks in an urban park or wild forest were significantly more beneficial to stress relief than walks in an urban setting. And researchers at Stanford found that walks in a natural setting led to better moods, improved performance on memory tasks, and decreased rumination when compared to urban walks.
Similarly, having nature nearby seems to benefit our health. Researchers in England analyzed data from 40 million people and found that residents who lived in a neighborhood with nearby open, undeveloped land tended to develop fewer diseases and were less likely to die before age 65. Most significantly, this finding was not related to income levels, suggesting that green spaces may buffer against poverty-related stress. And nature experiences have been used to treat mental disorders, like PTSD and drug addiction, with some level of success.
From Mark:
Two centuries ago, the Romantics trumpeted the virtues of nature as the antidote to the viciousness of industrialization. In 1984, the biologist Edward O. Wilson put a scientific spin on the idea with his book “Biophilia,” which posited that humans possess an innate love of nature.
Wilson’s argument was persuasive, yet it was mostly an aspiration dressed up as a hypothesis. In the generation since, scientists have sought to confirm the biophilia hypothesis — and they’re starting to get results. As little as 15 minutes in the woods has been shown to reduce test subjects’ levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Increase nature exposure to 45 minutes, and most individuals experience improvements in cognitive performance. There are society-scale benefits as well. Researchers in England have shown that access to green spaces reduces income-related mental health disparities.
It’s all very encouraging, but how exactly does nature have such an effect on people? To answer that question, Williams shadows researchers on three continents who are working on the frontiers of nature neuroscience.
Maybe it’s the forest smells that turn us on; aerosols present in evergreen forests act as mild sedatives while also stimulating respiration. Perhaps it’s the soundscape, since water and, especially, birdsong have been proven to improve mood and alertness. Nature’s benefits might be due to something as simple as the fact that natural landscapes are, literally, easy on the eyes. Many of nature’s patterns — raindrops hitting a pool of water or the arrangement of leaves — are organized as fractals, and the human retina moves in a fractal pattern while taking in a view. Such congruence creates alpha waves in the brains — the neural resonance of relaxation.
In this context, I want to mention again Wallace Nicholl's book on our connection to water, "Blue Mind." He recently asked me to attend a conference he organized on this subject, and I was sorry that I was not free to do this.

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