Editor’s note: In his book, Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv focused on why children need nature. His next book, The Nature Principle, shared how the whole family – and whole communities — can become happier, healthier and smarter through more contact with the natural world. His most recent book, Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life, offers 500+ practical actions we can apply to everyday life to make the most out of our time in nature.
What is Vitamin N?
With a rise in medications prescribed for kids, the term “Vitamin N” is essentially a prescription for more time in nature.
For decades, people who worked directly with children and families in natural settings have made the common sense case for nature’s benefits. Today, they’re bolstered by more science, and by a fast-growing new nature movement.
A few years ago I wrote, half in jest, “Want your kids to get into Harvard? Tell ’em to go outside.” In fact, nature-based education is spreading. Nature preschools and school gardens are multiplying. Even the National League of Cities has signed on.
Still, parents are the backbone of this movement. They don’t have to wait for a doctor to write a prescription or for a school board to change its policies.
Why Vitamin N is the Key to Our Health & Happiness
For some of us, experiencing the natural world is part of everyday life. But for many folks, connecting with nature doesn’t come naturally, even if we were privileged to have had the exposure when we were young.
Electronic media, longer school hours, traffic, fear of strangers, the worry that we don’t know enough to share nature; these are just some of the barriers. But the benefits of Vitamin N far outweigh the barriers. Here’s why…
1. The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need.
We have a human right to a meaningful connection to nature, and we have the responsibilities that come with that right. Few today would question the notion that every person, especially every young person, has a right to access the Internet. We should also have access to the natural world, because that connection is part of our humanity.
2. Humans are hard-wired to love and need exposure to the natural world.
Researchers have found that regardless of culture people gravitate to images of nature, especially the savannah. Our inborn affiliation for nature may explain why we prefer to live in houses with particular views of the natural world.
3. We suffer when we withdraw from nature.
Australian professor Glenn Albrecht, director of the Institute of Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University, has coined the term solastalgia.
He combined the Latin word solacium (comfort — as in solace) and the Greek root – algia (pain) to form solastalgia, which he defines as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault.”
4. Nature brings our senses alive.
Scientists recently found that humans have the ability to track by scent alone. Some humans rival bats in echolocation or biosonar abilities. Military studies show that some soldiers in war zones see nuances others miss, and can spot hidden bombs; by and large these tend to be rural or inner city soldiers, who grew up more conscious of their surroundings.
5. Individuals and businesses can become nature smart.
Spending more time outdoors nurtures our “nature neurons” and our natural creativity. For example, at the University of Michigan, researchers demonstrated that, after just an hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent. In workplaces designed with Vitamin N or nature in mind, employees are more productive and take less sick time.
6. Nature heals.
Not only is Mother Nature her own pharmacy, Pennsylvania researchers found that patients in rooms with tree views had shorter hospitalizations, less need for pain medications, and fewer negative comments in the nurses’ notes, compared to patients with views of brick.
7. Nature can reduce depression and improve psychological well-being.
Researchers in Sweden have found that joggers who exercise in a natural green setting feel more restored and less anxious, angry, or depressed than people who burn the same amount of calories jogging in a human-made urban setting. Hike It Baby is an organization that connects new moms to join together for nature hikes. Organizer Shanti Hodges relieved her postpartum depression by hiking with her group of babywearing moms.
8. Nature builds community bonds.
Levels of neurochemicals and hormones associated with social bonding are elevated during animal-human interactions. Researchers at the University of Rochester report that exposure to the natural environment leads people to nurture close relationships with fellow human beings, value community, and to be more generous with money.
9. Nature bonds families and friends.
New ways are emerging to make that bond, such as family nature clubs, through which multiple families go hiking, gardening, or engage in other outdoor activities together. In the U.K., families are forming “green gyms,” to bring people of all ages together to do green exercise.
10. The future is at stake.
The natural world’s benefits to our cognition and health will be irrelevant if we continue to destroy the nature around us, but a human reconnection to nature is helping us find ways to keep our environment safe and clean. A daily dose of Vitamin N makes us more intuitive about the ways we can reduce our impact on the planet.
- Helicopter Parenting in Nature: Don’t Cut Down the Tree, Build Up the Kid - April 18, 2016
- 10 Reasons Children and Adults Need Nature (Vitamin N) - February 17, 2014