I’m Sue Kirkland. And I’m here to talk with you about how nature can be an important part of your Self-Care. A little background here…I’ve been a part of Community works for several years. This year I worked with a small group of extraordinary women to start the sessions on Self-Care. But I also facilitated workshop on Happiness. When I asked the participants in breakout groups, what activities bring them happiness, they came back with lists of the activities I expected. But what I wasn’t expecting was that in each group, the only activity that was consistent among all the groups was “Spending time in nature.”
That inspired me to do some research and I found that not only is there evidence that spending time in nature helps people feel happier, the data goes much further and shows that nature benefits mental health, physical health and the general well-being, too. Please come with me on this short walk and I’ll tell you about some of the interesting and wide-ranging benefits of spending time out in nature can have, be and how it can benefit all of us. Along the way I’ll share some references so you can see it for yourself.
According to lots of research, being out in nature, at least two hours a week, in 20-minute or longer segments, lowers stress, lowers blood pressure, lowers the heartbeat, and buoys mood and mental health. It can also lower inflammation in the body and can positively affect type 2 diabetes. And, while physical exercise can be a part of these health benefits, for many people, just being outside in green space sparked a positive change.
The medical community is recognizing the benefit, and physicians more and more are writing “Nature Prescriptions.” Depending on the person, these prescriptions recommend as little as one hour a week outdoors in a park, doing something. That something can be whatever outside activity the patient will consistently do and enjoy, from gentle walking to playing tennis, or maybe even pickleball. The Nature Prescriptions may be in addition to appropriate drug therapies, but physicians prescribing them call it “Free Medicine.” There’s even a website, Walkwithadoc.org. that lists walking groups led by a doctor. The closest one I could find is in Flemington, but they are in every state.
And there are plenty of parks around you can take advantage of by yourself. Don’t take my work for it. Check out ParkRXAmerica.org It lists all the public parks in every state. If you live in New Jersey, there are 285 parks here. Not bad for the most densely populated state in the Union. (more than 10 times that of the USA as a whole) and more densely populated than India, Belgium, Japan and the Philippines!
Even Colorado, known for its outdoor lifestyle, only has 117 parks listed on the site, although I guess Rocky Mountain National Park should count for more than one. But speaking of national parks, the National Park Service has a program called “Healthy Parks, Healthy People” that encourages getting out into nature. You might want to check out the 9 locations here in New Jersey.
Another, non-website, resource I can recommend is a book: The Nature Fix, Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative, by Florence Williams.
And it’s not just happening here. Other countries are actually leading the way in connecting nature and health. Japan has a health practice called “Forest Bathing” with trails specifically designated for health walking. South Korea has followed Japan’s lead by building similar trails. And in several Canadian Provinces, doctors are giving out year-long passes to their national parks as prescriptions,
Before I close and get on with my nature walk, let me ask you. Do you think you just don’t have time to do this nature thing? I’m going to throw out a challenge to you. Look at your day and see if you can find 15 or 20 minutes that you can carve out so you can go out.
While you’re probably not in the highest group, according to Nielson in 2019, Americans averaged 11 ½ hours A DAY consuming media. And the Pew Research Center, also in 2019, found that half of all people in the US between 19 and 29 said they were online almost constantly. Of course, some of that time IS important…but I suspect that at least 20 minutes a day isn’t, and you can leave technology behind for those 20 minutes and be with and part of nature.
And when you do go out, be present. Leave technology behind. Notice the sounds of birds, the smell of the earth, the feel of the air as it moves past you, perhaps the stillness. Become, even for a few minutes, a part of it because in truth you ARE a part of it.
Please try this, and let us know how you do. Remember…Just 2 hours TOTAL a week, even if it’s 20 minutes at a time will make a difference.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Frederick Franck, who created a sculpture garden in Warwick, New York (about 2 hours from Lawrenceville) called Pacem in Terris – Peace on Earth.
To Stop rushing around, to sit quietly on the grass, to switch off the world and come back to the earth, to allow the eye to see a willow, a bush, a cloud, a leaf is an unforgettable experience.”
Now, I’m going to finish my walk here in Mercer Meadows Park, in Lawrenceville New Jersey. And I hope you each will find a space in nature where you experience on a regular basis, – Pachem in Terris – Peace on Earth…as well as all the other benefits for body mind and spirit that nature provides.