Going Home: the Effect of Nature on the Modern Human

by Jeanne Logman, NT – Market Manager, Tacoma

Urban populations are booming. Statistics for the last decade map a trend that shows a 20% increase in population growth taking place in American cities. As people seek out better financial opportunities and the conveniences of urban life, our connection to nature becomes increasingly strained.

Many scientific advances exist for the purpose of separating us or even ‘protecting’ us from the natural world. Strong arguments can be given in support of human productivity through these technological advances.

For example, clean running water is a wonderful thing. I can’t think of a person I know who would look forward to the daily task of collecting and storing water for their entire family every 24 hours. How much time and energy do we save by turning a tap instead of making multiple trips to a water source? An amazing amount. And yet, human beings are such clever thinking animals, we have in many ways shut out nature entirely for the sake of convenience and efficiency.

It is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot thrive independently from the natural world. It makes sense. We are not just minds. Our bodies are formed by nature to respond to natural stimuli. As Alan Watts, the British philosopher put it:
“You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave drom the ocean. You are not a stranger here.”

In America, and the Pacific Northwest in particular, we have abundant access to greenspaces, parks and stretches of wilderness. This is not true of every culture. Many Asian and European countries have watched the mental and physical health of their citizens decline as populations become dense and greenspaces shrink. Could something as simple as an hourlong stroll through the woods truly make a difference?

Extensive studies have concluded that exposure to nature is directly related to health and well-being. So dramatic were the improvements in focus, creative problem solving, anxiety, depression, wound-healing and immune response, that these countries now view access to nature and greenspace as a basic human right.

Finland’s public health department advises its citizens to spend a minimum of 5 hours per month in natural, forested areas. Singapore has passed an ordinance that no skyscrapers may be built without substantial greenery incorporated into the actual building and surrounding grounds. And Japan most famously developed the practice of shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’, where people are encouraged to spend time immersed in nature while paying close attention to their surroundings. Interestingly, strenuous exercise is not necessary to reap these health benefits. This is excellent news for those who resist hiking because they envision a photo of an REI model on a mountaintop as the “goal”.

But it turns out that nature is for everyone. What we come from has what we need. I’ll meet you there!