Vitamin G

Or ‘Comment la nature fait du bien à notre santé mentale’. This is the title of an article in Le Point.fr of 29 July 2015, which is summarized as: ‘Une balade de 90 minutes dans la nature impacterait positivement le cerveau, ont démontré des chercheurs.

Une nouvelle bonne raison de se mettre au vert! Une simple balade peut faire du bien à notre santé mentale, notre productivité et a même des effets sur la créativité.’

G is for green – nature. And what our sages have known for ages, is accepted by scientists, but by the very nature of their calling they want concrete and measurable proof of these intuitive understandings. Like meditation, for example, whose beneficial effects on both the body and the brain – and therefore on overall well-being – have been demonstrated and validated by many scientists around the world.

Scientists like to understand – or see for themselves – not only the conclusions arrived at, but also the how underlying them, what we call the mechanisms of what takes place. It’s like as a driver you know that a car needs petrol for the engine to run, but you want to know exactly what happens to the petrol from the moment it leaves the tank to be turned into energy by the pistons and so on – the how or mechanism.

As regards nature’s effects on us, what the article describes are not exactly the mechanisms – although be sure that the scientists will sooner or later go after these too! – but the findings of certain studies which involve exposing different subject groups to nature. The point is made that several earlier studies have already shown how such contact impacts positively on our physical health, such as how patients who had a view of a park through their hospital window recovered faster than others who did not have this facility.

Under similar conditions, benefits were obtained too with regard to respiratory problems, high blood pressure, the immunity of the body (amongst others). These benefits lasted a month, and by extension more regular exposure would no doubt make them more lasting. Although, here again, some scientists would probably want to conduct more appropriate studies to validate this proposition.

It may be recalled that when antibiotic treatment was not yet available for pulmonary tuberculosis, the recommended treatment was in sanatoria that were purposely built at high altitudes. Since tuberculosis was essentially a disease of the lungs, what could be better than to give the patients doses of the freshest and purest air throughout the day, in the hope that it would help to halt the progression of the malady, as it must surely have done in many a case?

In fact, one of the oldest sanatoria in the USA was situated in upstate New York, in the Adirondacks, a region of hills and lakes. Another one that I know about and have visited was the Lady Linlithgoth Sanatorium in the Simla Hills in North India, in the army town of Kasauli.

However, the series of studies that the article reports on concerns mental health, and one such was carried out by Spanish researchers on 2500 children aged 6 to 10 years, who had regular exposure to nature either at home or at school. They were found to have improved concentration and memory. Children suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder have also been found to gain by a mere 20 minute-walk in a park as compared to walking for the same time in an urban environment.

Further, a similar gain occurs among such children when they are made to play regularly in green settings (lawns, trees…) as compared to doing so indoors or ‘dans des environnements bétonnés’. That says a lot for the need for town planners to provide for adequate green space in their future designs. And smart cities, I would think, is all about green living isn’t it?

In Australia, studies have demonstrated a reduction of stress, and increased productivity and creativity amongst workers and students who were made to vision images of natural environments, or who were in environments containing green plants. Further, a study by psychologists in Kansas found that there was increased creativity among those who were taken for a trek in the large American National Parks. Other studies have demonstrated an improvement among depressed subjects who did as little as 90 minutes of nature walk.

This reminds me of the first page of the handout given at the entrance to a National Park that I was going to visit in the US. It had ‘Healthy Parks, Healthy People’ as headline, the invitation starting with the lines, ‘You knew that amazing scenery awaited you in these parks. But did you consider the health benefits of your visit?’

A most apt reminder, I thought, that people should make the connection between outdoor activity and their health, which they most often do not do.

It would seem that in the US ‘some doctors are even writing “park prescriptions” to get their patients out and active in nature.’ I wondered how come people don’t realize by themselves the amount of good they could do to their bodies and their minds by going into the natural outdoors and just enjoy what is available for free! Surely one does not need a prescription for having a great time in nature’s lap?

John Muir, great explorer and naturalist who would be one of the pioneers leading the movement to set up protected National Parks in the US, was in rapture at what he saw and felt. Way back in 1898, he observed that ‘Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like autumn leaves.’

The handout I have alluded to advised, ‘feel the wind in your face and the sun on your skin. Let the deep quiet of the forest become part of your walk.’ No: it becomes part of you – because as you stand in awe and contemplation of all the beauty and vastness stretching out before and all around you, you feel part of it all, as one with it.

How can it be otherwise – after all, we too are part of the same nature! Which we tend to forget.

So let’s go feel the wind and feast our eyes on the green and the yellow and the …

 

 

 Published in print edition on 31 July 2015

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