kids play at beach
young person focused on cell phone Is Nature Deficit Disorder really a thing?

The term nature deficit disorder (NDD) was created by Richard Louv in 2005. It was originally describing kids' lack of outdoor time resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems, but it should apply equally to humans of all ages.

"The condition NDD and the symptoms are a roster of the most talked-about medical obsessions of our times, from stress and anxiety to obesity, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and even the desire for epidemiological self-maximization expressed by the phrase 'better than well.' In each of these cases, a growing body of evidence suggests that exposure to nature can help." - James McKinnon

With computers, video games, and television, children have reasons to stay inside. Estimates are that the average American US child spends 44 hours a week with electronic media. Sounds familiar for many of us who use a computer for work...and if you're stuck indoors at your workstation cubicle, well..

I am old. There were no computer games or Internet when I was young. I had wooden toys like Lincoln Logs and metal trucks with sharp edges. I learned the hard way. Mom said: "Go out and play!" and so I did. Play usually involved interaction with other kids in the neighborhood on bikes, gone sledding, or just hanging out doing kid stuff, but if nothing was going on there was always solo time in the backyard, and beyond that, adventure in the woods.

Being outdoors in nature usually involves activity that burns calories. About 9 million children (ages 6–19) are overweight or obese. The Institute of Medicine claims that over the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled for adolescents and more than tripled for children aged 6–11. Ouch.

The woods was an undeveloped property over the stone wall beyond my backyard. To a kid it was huge with unlimited opportunity for adventure. There were so many interesting things in the woods: dense tree cover; a small muddy stream with frogs of course; interesting seasonal plants including stinky skunk cabbage! It was a fascinating place.

With care I took a plant with bright yellow flower from the woods, transplanting it to my Mom's garden in the back yard. I was hopeful but did not do well. Lesson learned.

I watch young people outdoors for a walk who never look up from their phone's screen. Near head-on collisions are inevitable. These people have no idea what's going on around them: struck by a meteor; mountain lion attacks; even collisions with sign posts are a real risk. All avoidable with some peripheral awareness. When you look up there will be some interesting stuff.

"Electronics and technology are growing very fast...children don't play outside anymore but are writing messages to other children. It is very strange. OK, maybe I am old school or something but what can I say? I hate technology. It is just losing time." – Peter Sagan, World Champion cyclist

christeen hikeConnect with Nature!
via Steve

"He loved the Earth and all things of the Earth...he knew that man's heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew the lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to the lack of respect for humans too." - Ogalala Soiux

Many problems are caused by humans not connecting with nature. Too much time indoors; too much time sitting, staring at screens for work and entertainment. The real magic is all around us in nature.

Human bodies were designed to move. The physiological risks of a sedentary lifestyle are well known. The psychological pathology of too much time indoors may be even more insidious. Have you ever felt down or depressed after outdoor activities? I never have. I'm not talking about being fatigued from a day of outdoor activities; I'm talking about your psychological state of well-being.

We come from the elements and living things, not buildings, pavement—or glass with views. Everything in nature is recycled, including us. The things we create may support, define, and entertain us, but they do not sustain us. You can't grow plants in cement.

"Hills are always more beautiful than stone buildings, you know. Living in a city is an artificial existence. Lots of people hardly ever feel real soil under their feet, see plants grow except in flowerpots, or get far enough beyond the streetlight to catch the enchantment of a night sky studded with stars. When people live far from the scenes of the Great Spirit's making, it's easy for them to forget his laws." - Walking Buffalo

An essay by Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times called "How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain" summarizes the results of a study by Gregory Bratman and his colleagues titled "Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation" published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences. The abstract for this study reads as follows:

Urbanization has many benefits, but it also is associated with increased levels of mental illness, including depression. It has been suggested that decreased nature experience may help to explain the link between urbanization and mental illness. This suggestion is supported by a growing body of correlational and experimental evidence, which raises a further question: what mechanism(s) link decreased nature experience to the development of mental illness? One such mechanism might be the impact of nature exposure on rumination, a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought that is associated with heightened risk for depression and other mental illnesses. We show in healthy participants that a brief nature experience, a 90-min walk in a natural setting, decreases both self-reported rumination and neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC), whereas a 90-min walk in an urban setting has no such effects on self-reported rumination or neural activity. In other studies, the sgPFC has been associated with a self-focused behavioral withdrawal linked to rumination in both depressed and healthy individuals. This study reveals a pathway by which nature experience may improve mental well-being and suggests that accessible natural areas within urban contexts may be a critical resource for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.

A study by Omid Kardan and his colleagues is called "Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center" and was published in Scientific Reports. This essay is available online. The abstract reads:

Studies have shown that natural environments can enhance health and here we build upon that work by examining the associations between comprehensive greenspace metrics and health. We focused on a large urban population center (Toronto, Canada) and related the two domains by combining high-resolution satellite imagery and individual tree data from Toronto with questionnaire-based self-reports of general health perception, cardio-metabolic conditions and mental illnesses from the Ontario Health Study. Results from multiple regressions and multivariate canonical correlation analyses suggest that people who live in neighborhoods with a higher density of trees on their streets report significantly higher health perception and significantly less cardio-metabolic conditions.

An essay by Jason Goldman in Conservation Magazine, "Street Trees Really Do Make People Healthier" also provides a good summary of this study in which it is noted, "A close look at the data offers up a suggestion. It wasn't proximity to trees in a neighborhood that was the most important variable, but the number of trees on the streets. That suggests that it’s not necessarily that the trees are themselves providing important services (they do that, though that might not be what accounts for these health effects). Instead, it could be something as simple as peoples’ ability to literally see trees, and the most common place for most [urban dwelling] people to see trees is on the street."

I used to spend much time at a local park with a nice view of the NYC skyline; a peninsula surrounded on all sides by ocean. For me it was time to relax featuring visual vitamins. It was my favorite part of town and I went there almost every evening to escape the sprawl and bustle of my town in suburbia. It was entertaining to watch people at the park, the majority seemed quite relaxed and in their element—others not so much. Well-kept trails circumnavigate the park, as well as a paved two lane road around the perimeter with a speed limit of 15mph. People would head down to the park to relax, ride a bike, run, walk, or just hang out. I wonder how many laps I pedaled and ran around that place over the years enjoying every minute...

Observing the park visitors fascinated me; I could not help but assess their stress and comfort level in nature. Some would not get out of the car, driving the 3-mile the perimeter loop in a rush, frustrated by any cyclist on the road, honking to pass even though driving at double the speed limit. Some would park, jump out in haste, hammer out a run lap with no warm up, ear bud music masking any annoying sounds of nature, then jump back in the car, off to the next very important time-intensive activity (snarcasm intended).

I found one behavior especially perplexing: a few runners and walkers preferred the pavement to manicured adjacent trail. They would exercise in the road, claiming a lane, battling cyclists and drivers for space. Why would someone prefer pavement over a carefully prepared trail? Nature disconnect.

Get out and hug a tree it will do you both good. =)

"There don't seem to be any downsides to rewilding our hearts." - Marc Bekoff Ph.D.

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