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Nature Deficit Disorder – The Case For Treatment

by Dr Paul Wood

While not recognized as a medical diagnosis, nature deficit disorder is an apt descriptor encompassing a range of negative health effects observed in those largely confined to concrete jungles. Richard Louv, in his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’, is credited with first using the term. It is interesting to consider that for thousands of years humans have lived in a natural environment with regular exposure to sunrises, sunsets, night skies, various animals and a broad array of plant life. Since the industrial revolution, however, humans have increasingly come to immerse themselves in an environment of their own making. For many of us this has come with an increased propensity towards chronic lifestyle related diseases.

So, in the 21st century, what are some of the benefits of being intentional about immersing ourselves in a more natural environment on a regular basis?

Better Sleep

Do you frequently find yourself counting sheep at night? A study published in the journal Current Biology suggests that going camping for a week might be of great assistance in the management of insomnia. For one week researchers monitored eight adults who spent most of their time in locations with artificial lighting. During this time their sleep, light exposure and melatonin levels were recorded. These subjects then spent a week camping, experiencing only natural lighting in the form of sunlight and campfires at night. Researchers found that the subject’s Circadian rhythms were recalibrated by their exposure to natural light such that they went to bed earlier, woke up earlier and felt more refreshed.

Green Exercise For Improved Mood

There is something special about inhaling the scent of flowers, listening to the sound of birds and gazing at an array of trees and shrubs. It shouldn’t come as any surprise then that it seems that exercising outdoors in a natural or green environment may do more for your mood than exercising indoors. In fact it seems that the first five minutes of this type of exercise may have the greatest impact upon mood and self esteem. What does this all mean? You don’t necessarily need to find an extra hour in your day to experience the mood improving benefits of exercising in nature; even five minutes a day is a great starting point!

Improved Healing

It is tempting, when you are at home sick with the flu, to spend time cooped up indoors watching TV. Back in the early part of last century, however, it was commonplace for patients who were sick and housed in Sanitariums to spend significant periods of time outdoors enjoying the gardens and sunshine. It was thought that this aided in the healing process. With the building of larger and more modern hospitals, however, patients became confined to recuperating indoors. It wasn’t until 1984 that Roger Ulrich, in the journal Science, published research comparing patients recovering from gallbladder surgery who had beds with windows looking out onto leafy trees compared to those who had windows looking out onto brick walls. He found that those patients with windows looking out onto leafy trees recovered on average one day faster, needed less pain medications and had fewer post-surgical complications than their counterparts.

Strong Families and Healthy Communities

Richard Louv quotes research from the University of Rochester stating 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’. So how can we capitalize on this research? Try joining a bushwalking or bird watching club, participate in a community garden, have a relaxing picnic in the park or have a weekend camping getaway.

The cure for nature deficit disorder is relatively simple, has negligible side effects and doesn’t need to be prescribed by a GP or psychiatrist. Isn’t it time you thought about giving yourself a dose of nature?

References:

www.scientificamerican.com/article/trouble-sleeping-go-campi/ (Accessed 25/9/15)

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3710158/ (Accessed 25/9/15)

www.scientificamerican.com/article/nature-that-nurtures/ (Accessed 25/9/15)

www.richardlouv.com/blog/Ten-Reasons-Why-Children-and-Adults-Need-Vitamin-N/ (Accessed 25/9/15)

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