When we get closer to nature, we do our overstressed brains a favor.
December 24, 2015 9:56 AM   Subscribe

“Imagine a therapy that had no known side effects, was readily available, and could improve your cognitive functioning at zero cost,” the researchers wrote in their paper. It exists, they continued, and it’s called “interacting with nature.”
posted by saul wright (54 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
no known side effects

Tell that to Aron Ralston.
posted by howfar at 10:08 AM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just skimmed the article, but didn't see a link to this even lighter take on it: Nature Rx.
posted by NorthernLite at 10:11 AM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


This should actually be called "interacting with nature during pleasant weather".
posted by eschatfische at 10:16 AM on December 24, 2015 [15 favorites]


"interacting with nature during pleasant weather".

Which will be increasingly rare as time goes on.
posted by The Whelk at 10:21 AM on December 24, 2015 [14 favorites]


I want to believe this but of the two forests near me, one contains guys in orange vests shooting everything that moves, and the other contains rich people who are constantly telling you to get off the path and make room for them and their skittish horses. Isn't there any nature that doesn't have quite so many people in it?
posted by mittens at 10:23 AM on December 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


Metafilter: the communal mud pit.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:34 AM on December 24, 2015


Articles like this have a tendency to bug me. I mean, yes, I do feel that getting out of cities when suffering from emotional problems is as important as getting out of the water when suffering from drowning, but it's an oversimplification. Far too many people don't have adequate access to nature, and saying "lol, go for a walk, sadsack!" doesn't really help all that much.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 10:35 AM on December 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


Depends where you are. My local park has a remarkably quiet wooded interior with some old growth trees. And where I normally go in the mountains, I may see a dozen people or less in a day's outing. That's why it's a favorite place for me.
posted by wotsac at 10:36 AM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


My hammock is down for the winter, but even a few minutes in my back yard looking at trees and sky and birds or stars and feeling the livingness of my bodymind do wonders for my mental health. If brain science--catnip for journalists--results in more PR for Gaia, wunderbar.
posted by kozad at 10:38 AM on December 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


Reducing this article, which describes the steps various places are taking to improve access, to "lol, go for a walk, sadsack!" doesn't seem to help anything appreciably either.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:39 AM on December 24, 2015 [23 favorites]


Makes me want to go on a camping trip.

I found it especially interesting that just being in the area of greenery, without necessarily going there, is beneficial.
posted by bearwife at 10:43 AM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I bought my property with old woods, a river and wetlands specifically to get my children outside more. The only problem is I now worry about Lyme disease and mostiquto-borne illnesses. : (
posted by saucysault at 10:44 AM on December 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


The hell is wrong with you people? A NatGeo article about the healing benefits of going outside, met with weary cynicism.

Go outside.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:53 AM on December 24, 2015 [44 favorites]


Metafilter: met with weary cynicism.
posted by blucevalo at 10:54 AM on December 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


But there's people who like things I don't get online! I need to let them know my opinion!
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:55 AM on December 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


i can't actually think of many things more intensely anxiety-inducing and stressful than traipsing through the woods for 3 days with a spinal injury.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:03 AM on December 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


maybe actually being on fire, that would probably be worse. at least it wouldn't take 3 days.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:04 AM on December 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


You know the beach is also nature poffin.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:10 AM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, is this something I would need to own working knees to understand? I like hiking fine under certain circumstances, but when your joints don't always work and are prone to unpredictable, painful, sudden failures it's by no means a stress-free experience. A lot has to already be going right in your life for you to have access to nature, time to enjoy it, and the ability to really lose yourself in it rather than worrying something will go wrong to mess it up for you and the people you're with. I imagine all the things that make it hard for people to get out in the woods also make them more prone to depression.
posted by town of cats at 11:10 AM on December 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Does watching cat videos on the Internet count?
posted by briank at 11:11 AM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anyway I love this idea but how about instead of 3 days we all take a long walk into the woods and build mut huts there and never go back to the glass office prison of inspiration.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:12 AM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


This particular National Geographic article has perhaps the highest ratio of nudity to photos I've ever seen.

I do miss camping though. My wife has determined that she actually doesn't enjoy it that much, so I guess my next trip to Big Sur will be solo, or perhaps with our ten-year-old pit mix camping buddy. At home Cissy limps; in Big Sur she runs.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:12 AM on December 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have leafy green wallpaper on my main computer. It helps. A little.

(come on people, go outside!)
posted by chavenet at 11:13 AM on December 24, 2015


In England researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School recently analyzed mental health data from 10,000 city dwellers and used high-resolution mapping to track where the subjects had lived over 18 years. They found that people living near more green space reported less mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment (all of which are also correlated with health). In 2009 a team of Dutch researchers found a lower incidence of 15 diseases—including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines—in people who lived within about a half mile of green space. And in 2015 an international team overlaid health questionnaire responses from more than 31,000 Toronto residents onto a map of the city, block by block. Those living on blocks with more trees showed a boost in heart and metabolic health equivalent to what one would experience from a $20,000 gain in income. Lower mortality and fewer stress hormones circulating in the blood have also been connected to living close to green space.

The article is about more than just hiking.
posted by saul wright at 11:13 AM on December 24, 2015 [29 favorites]


I want to go to the Korean health forest and watch firemen lubricate one another
posted by poffin boffin at 11:14 AM on December 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


:o red in tooth and claw indeed
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:16 AM on December 24, 2015


This particular National Geographic article has perhaps the highest ratio of nudity to photos I've ever seen.

Beginning on the third page of the print edition, perhaps?
posted by jamjam at 11:28 AM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Makes me want to go on a camping trip.

I think I could indefinitely sustain a pattern of camping Friday-Sunday and spending Monday through Thursday simultaneously appreciating the benefits of civilization (such as plumbing, appliances, the Internet, and indoor climate control) and looking forward to the next camping trip.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:48 AM on December 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Does watching cat videos on the Internet count?

Yes, it does.
posted by discopolo at 12:05 PM on December 24, 2015


Yeah, is this something I would need to own working knees to understand?

Not picking on you in particular, town of cats, but in many US state parks, national parks, and national forests there are accessible pathways for folks with mobility concerns. Many of the forests I've camped in have had drive-up car slots literally less than 20 meters from where you can set up a tent. Aside from the generally respectful traffic on a Friday evening and Sunday evening as folks enter and leave, the rest of the week is often very quiet.
posted by a halcyon day at 12:18 PM on December 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Plus you could probably take up birdwatching or bench-sitting in a local park and get many of the same psychological benefits.

I prefer my outdoors in controlled doses with minimal sweating and bugs, but there's still plenty of it to be had in close proximity to climate control.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:47 PM on December 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Here is why San Francisco is so wonderful, and why I hope we get to have parts of it back once the moneyed classes get bored of it:

Glen Canyon Park.

This is smack dab in the middle of the city. It's nestled in a suburban-looking residential neighborhood, and looks totally unimpressive from above. But once you're down in it, you are neatly ensconced in two completely different flavors of Nature, and from the right places in the park the only sign of civilization you can see is Sutro Tower, which doesn't really take away from the effect, because Sutro Tower is so over-the-top retrofuturistic that it seems less like a thing in modern San Francisco and more like something from Star Trek's utopian vision of San Francisco's future — looking at Sutro Tower makes me think I could pop over to the Presidio and hang out with all the bright, earnest Starfleet Academy students there.

Why do I say Glen Canyon Park has two completely different flavors of nature? Okay, so, you know how the hills on the peninsula side of the bay are lush and green and forested, while the hills on the East Bay side are dry and golden and grassy, because of how the west side hills capture much of the moisture from the clouds and fog coming off the ocean? The microclimatological difference you observe when you look at the east and west sides of the bay are repeated in micro-microcosm in Glen Canyon Park; the west slope of the canyon looks like the west side of the bay, and the east slope looks like the east side of the bay. It's weird and gorgeous. Apparently there are species of butterfly and lizard that only live on one side of the canyon or the other. I don't just mean that you find different wildlife on the different sides, I mean that there are species that only exist on one side of this tiny piece of nature right in the middle of the West Coast's densest city.

it is so cool.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:48 PM on December 24, 2015 [25 favorites]


When we get closer to nature, we do our overstressed brains a favour.

Unless nature is represented by, y'know, a lion.
posted by Grangousier at 12:59 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


maybe actually being on fire, that would probably be worse. at least it wouldn't take 3 days.

The worst part of being on fire out in the woods is when Smokey the Bear runs up and puts you out by hitting you with his shovel while screaming "Only you can prevent forest fires! Only you!" over and over. By the third time that happens, it's really stressful.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:16 PM on December 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I took this photo during a walk at the local park. (Warning: flying spiders).

So soothing to get close to nature! Why yes, I am Australian.
posted by adept256 at 3:01 PM on December 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Anyway I love this idea but how about instead of 3 days we all take a long walk into the woods and build mut huts there and never go back to the glass office prison of inspiration.

These mutt huts you speak of. Where can I find them?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 4:52 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I bought my property with old woods, a river and wetlands specifically to get my children outside more. The only problem is I now worry about Lyme disease and mostiquto-borne illnesses. : (

As a kid that basically grew up in the woods in a place crawling with Lyme disease and as a now-forest-ecologist who has done lots of fieldwork in both of the severe Lyme hotspots in the US, the only way to get over this fear is to instill in them the complete importance of tick checks. REQUIRE them to check with a full-length mirror at the end of the day. Have them put their clothing in a plastic bag as soon as they get inside. It was also comforting to me to learn that most Lyme transmissions happen when the tick has attached for a day or more…hence the super, super diligent tick checks! I’ve been bit by several deer ticks and have never had Lyme to date. I also make a habit to get tested for Lyme at the end of each summer, just for peace of mind. It’s not a super serious thing, as long as it’s caught early.

Mosquito-borne illnesses are much more scary to me, because there’s not much that can be done to prevent them. No amount of bug spray or protective gear stops those assholes. Fortunately, mosquito-borne diseases aren’t super common and you’ll usually know beforehand if there’s an outbreak in your area. Just pay attention for fevers and the like.

“Getting diseases out in the woods” is one of the only things I hate about my job, but I think the benefits of being outside far, far outweigh the fear of getting something! Especially for children...I seriously credit my strong immune system/lack of allergies to being one of those kids that was covered in dirt and who-knows-what all summer long. There's so much good that comes from it.
posted by giizhik at 4:58 PM on December 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


This particular National Geographic article has perhaps the highest ratio of nudity to photos I've ever seen.
I counted four boobies. This is not the highest ratio of photos with nudity to photos without nudity that I have seen. Wondering if maybe I'm using a different internet.
posted by ArmandoAkimbo at 5:22 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Far too many people don't have adequate access to nature, and saying "lol, go for a walk, sadsack!" doesn't really help all that much.

Given that the standard AskMe answer to any given question is "get therapy", this comment rings a little bit false for this site. This year I've been hiking 57 times (I keep an Excel spreadsheet to track it, because I'm like that), and the vast majority of those hikes were on trails that you can reach for a couple of dollars on the city bus. For most people, that's a significant savings over the MeFi staple of therapy.

Not everyone has the opportunity to get out into nature, but a whole lot of people do, and there's nothing wrong with an article affirming that it's generally good for them to do so.

Los Angeles Hiking Fact: For some reason that I have yet to determine, 75% of the people that you encounter on the trail will be sad LAUSD teacher commiserating. The remaining 25% is made up entirely of groups of people deep in conversation about how they get their protein.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 5:34 PM on December 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


> These mutt huts you speak of. Where can I find them?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 4:52 PM on December 24 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


I don't know for sure, but I believe the administrators of Crone Island might be receptive to the idea of setting up mutt huts here.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:48 PM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


By the way, "nature" and "go outside" also includes your own backyard, a city park, a porch or even just an open window. You don't have to backpack Yosemite to qualify as going outside.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:52 PM on December 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


setting up mutt huts THERE, not HERE. damn you, autocorrect, for making it look like I'm trying to interlope on Crone Island...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:01 PM on December 24, 2015


I live in an urban residential area. There's a park a few blocks from my house that is also a few blocks from a coffee shop. On the weekends when it's nice, I get a cup of coffee and bring a kindle or notebook to the park. Aside from a soccer field, it is very heavily wooded and basically bowl-shaped, so you can't see any buildings and you can forget you're in a city at all. If I climb up into the woods and find a bench to read, on average I only see 2 or 3 people, mostly trail runners. I love this place more than anything.
posted by desjardins at 7:44 PM on December 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


The remaining 25% is made up entirely of groups of people deep in conversation about how they get their protein.

1% will be Cher in my experience.
posted by bongo_x at 9:16 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


ArmandoAkimbo, I guess I should have specified "highest ratio etc I've seen in National Geographic." 30% of the photos feature nudity which I recall being on the high side for NatGeo.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:47 PM on December 24, 2015


The remaining 25% is made up entirely of groups of people deep in conversation about how they get their protein.

1% will be Cher in my experience.


Somebody gets their protein from Cher??
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:03 AM on December 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm at the beach in Florida for Christmas, so it feels like a break from nature (living in Vermont). I am finding that getting away from the office for 2 weeks is stress-reducing.
posted by MtDewd at 2:21 AM on December 25, 2015


By the way, "nature" and "go outside" also includes your own backyard, a city park, a porch or even just an open window. You don't have to backpack Yosemite to qualify as going outside.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:52 PM on December 24

Agreed. I live in a condo that's not much bigger than my shoe but I have a back balcony that overlooks a courtyard that's got lots of trees in it, enough trees that it's even sortof semi-private most of the year (until the leaves drop, which they're doing now), enough trees that my balcony has shade, which you definitely appreciate if you're living in Austin. (Or I do, anyways.) Plus, the guys who live directly below me (I'm on the second floor) have over the years planted bushes and flowering plants and god knows what all, it's like they're arborists (my spell checker is telling me that arborists isn't a word but if it isn't it should be) or what-have-you. It's great, it's like a nice park, I'll sit out on that one chair I like most with some green tea (iced in summer, natch.) There are birds flitting about, mourning doves most of the year, and though they're called mourning doves it doesn't sound like they're mourning to me, it's really nice to hear.

But supposing I want more outdoorsy stuff -- I'm forced to walk about 200 feet to the river; I live dead across from downtown Austin, on the south bank of the Colorado river. It's a long, difficult trek, I have to pace myself of course, I think yesterday evening I may even have almost sweated! Tragic. (I sweat plenty April-October -- it's gruesome. You live in Austin for days like yesterday. And esp for days like the 23rd -- as pretty as could be. Not perfect, but pretty damn sweet.) I head down to the river with a book or a puter or maybe neither of those, almost always I've got my cell phone -- which is almost a puter anyways, and with Audible it's a book, too -- and a big mug of green tea, a big water bottle. Since we live here we of course take it for granted, so I've usually got it to myself, and if I don't get my favorite spot to myself we've got three other spots. If anyone comes over to gab I'll say hi and then drop subtle hints that I hope they get very ill or something, at least that they go away.

So many people here hate all the high-rises that are popping up like mushrooms after a summer rain, but they're gorgeous on the river, across from me, come sundown. Hell of a show, lasts maybe an hour and a half if you want to see it all. The sun as it sets hits those mirrored windows on those buildings and they're all brightened, and then as the sun slides down the sky the shine comes off of those windows, one building at a time, from east to west. And the light on the water goes through all these changes also, and for about 8 minutes it's like mercury, it's this totally gorgeous, shining silver, I call it "the silver hour" but it's not an hour, for sure. It's longer than 8 minutes in the summer months, maybe double that. You have to notice it -- you might not, might look at it and not see it, like how Krishnamurti said that once you see a tree you never really see another, it's like it's just a class in your mind "tree" and you don't really look at a tree again; you can do that same with the silver hour, just see "water" if you're not paying any mind. It's worth paying attention.

I see *lots* of people -- the city built this extension to the hike/bike trail out over the river, maybe 75 feet from shore, so that now all of Austin gets to see the view which we've had to ourselves all these years. I sure hated to see it built, went to planning meetings blah blah blah but fact is that it's the prettiest view in town and it's only fair that everyone who lives here gets to see it. I hate each and every person I see and I hate their dogs, also, and their stupid bikes and their stupid fluorescent orange or green colored bike shirts and I hope they all get polio or what-have-you, I've considered getting a cross-bow and knocking a few of them off except not really. We're on a higher elevation, so I do get to see over them, and thank god for that. In fact, I not only see over them but also I oversee them, and bestow upon them my blessings, like the pope at his window.

Likely we have ticks but I've never gotten nailed; it's not like I'm stomping 'round through the stinkweed here, I walk from my condo to the chair, and then collapse, exhausted from the hike. We have mosquitoes out the wazoo but mostly they don't like me too much thank god. The biggest hazard to me is the flippin' poison ivy, which covers every square inch of Texas mostly -- I'm deadly allergic to the stuff, to the point where I have had to go and get some kind of shot once because my throat was closing down. (These religious people, they're all the time going on about a god of love -- hows about poison ivy then? Answer that one, ya mopes.)

The most dangerous thing here is water moccasins, which of course are about. I've only seen them a couple of times, and never close. (Never *seen* them close -- they're close. I'm on the flippin' river. Duh.) Water moccasins are super cool looking, there is beauty in their danger, like fast motorcycles or Dallas women. I ran over one (a snake) on my bicycle once, a small one, I didn't want to, I yanked on the brakes HARD but basically the snake got crushed under the skidding front tire. Bummer. (Especially for the snake of course, but I'd not have hurt it if I could have helped it.) The snake wasn't happy, it was twisting around to demonstrate its unhappiness, I couldn't just leave it, I stomped it and kicked it off the trail, got back on the bike, sad about it, mostly.

We have a zillion, billion, trillion parks and trails and whatever else here in Austin, and so much of it right here in the city. You like canoeing? Kayaking? Bike riding? Running? Walking? Swimming? We've got all of that and good coffee shops to boot, and lots of music, and lots of other fun stuff. Living in Austin is a therapy in itself of course -- people come from all over the world to frolic in my neighborhood, and I don't blame them. Going strictly by the number of festivals here -- I'd make a conservative guess of 87 million a year -- Austin is not just outdoorsy, it's festive.

If you come down, give me a shout and I'll make you a mug of tea and we'll sit by the river in the silver hour and talk about other metafilter members that we don't like, and why, just exactly how they're getting it wrong etc, how we can help them. Bring a swim suit, some running shoes, some walking shoes. You can rent a bike, a canoe, a kayak, you can even rent those goofy surfboard looking things that people pole around the river on, like they're in Venice or what-have-you. Probably the worst part about visiting here is having to leave, having to go back to Cleveland or some such -- gawd. It's so easy to slide into Southern English, it's a lazy, easy tongue, and Texas English even easier, it's not lazier but it is easier, and more fun, too, could be you'll find yourself saying "ya'll" or "fixin' to" when you get off the plane, and your friends might have you committed, so be careful....
posted by dancestoblue at 3:27 AM on December 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


The amount of snark here against going outside is impressive, even for metafilter.
posted by mikek at 8:45 AM on December 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Maybe all of the non-snarky people are outside.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:56 AM on December 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


to be fair I think I've made a strong case for parts of outside that happen to be tiny, ecologically fragile, and in the middle of extraordinarily expensive cities.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:41 AM on December 25, 2015


I put my desk against a window and outside the window I planted a variety of butterfly-attracting native flowers. Then there's some yard, then a small crabapple surrounded by other butterfly-attracting and bird-attracting plants. I added a butterfly puddler and a bird feeder and a bird bath over time. None of its particularly elaborate or expensive but everything I plant within view of that window I plant with the idea that I'll be primarily looking at it from the window. It is, as a result, everyone's favorite spot in the house, and I frequently have to fight off children or cats to get at my desk. But it is a really nice place to sit because there's plenty of nice plants to gaze at and the bird traffic is pretty constant. My midsummer view. Right now I can see a lot more houses and utility wires and fences, but that's okay, it makes for nicer birdwatching. I picked a firebush, for example, because they're so vivid in fall and catch the snow so prettily in winter. The crabapple blooms riotously in spring. The flowers all open at different moments. So there's always something going on.

(I also added the bird bath since that pic, and you can't see the puddler at all because everything's so overgrown.)

I just took a bunch of branches that missed the last yard waste pickup of the year and tossed them in the grassy area near the bird feeder (which is winter seed right now, not summer hummingbird) and it is like bird gossip central.

Anyway, its a lot of nature to gaze at in really not a very large space.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:59 PM on December 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


The hell is wrong with you people? A NatGeo article about the healing benefits of going outside, met with weary cynicism.

WELCOME TO METAFILTER!


Seriously, there's nothing to really dispute about this article- these are well known facts. And that makes people here nervous.
posted by happyroach at 4:18 PM on December 25, 2015


It's beautiful, Eyebrows -- "a green thought in a green shade" indeed.

And it somehow puts me in mind of the "prettyish kind of a little wilderness on one side of your lawn" in the Bennet's "park" that Lady de Bourgh insisted on as the backdrop for her confrontation with Elizabeth, which is one of my favorite scenes in Pride and Prejudice.
posted by jamjam at 12:04 PM on December 26, 2015


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