- Dr. Rebecca A. Thomas
Green Space Blue Space
So if we insist on getting our kids off excessive screen time, what in the world are we going to do with them? Well there is ample evidence showing the physical and mental health benefits of just getting outdoors. That's it...how easy can that be? And it's free! Being outside in nature can produce amazing results: improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and it can even improve empathy and cooperation.
Who knew? when I was a young mother I just thought that when my kids got on my last nerve, I needed to send them outside to 'get the wiggles out'. Little did I know that I was not only protecting them from my craziness, but I was granting them amazing health benefits. However, since recently getting a couple of puppies for my husband, I too have experience the boost in mood that comes from just from getting outside a few times during the day.
It's kinds of humorous to me, but it's true; there is a lot of research being done about 'green space.' Yes, that's the official, scientific term for being outdoors. And now we know that even 'green views' (seeing trees and plants out the window) are beneficial, as well, though you don't get as much bang for your buck as you do if you physically go outside. Studies show that experiencing 'green space' improves working memory, cognitive flexibility and the ability to pay attention, while exposure to urban environments is linked to attention deficits. We're lucky to live in this rural setting with lots of free 'green space.'
There are some theories about this and I won't bore you with the fancy names. Maybe it's because our ancestors lived in the wild and relied on nature for survival, so we still feel the need to connect to nature. Or maybe we find that spending time in nature lowers our stress levels, so we gravitate there. Or maybe nature 'clears your brain', giving you better ability to concentrate and pay attention. As expected, it's likely a combination of all three fo these theories.
We know that nature has healing powers and there are many studies to verify this. A study was done with participants who were performing cognitive tests while listening to natures sounds like crickets chirping and waves crashing performed better than those who listened to urban sounds of traffic and the sounds inside a busy cafe. Also we know that going barefoot outside as much as possible actually has healing properties to the body and soul; it's called 'grounding.'
Gregory Bateman, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Washington (and colleagues) reviewed the literature and shared that contact with nature is associated with increases in happiness, feelings of well-being, positive affect, positive social interaction and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as decreases in mental distress.
A study done in the UK with a sample of nearly 20,000 adults found the people who had spent at least two recreational hours in nature during the previous week reported significantly greater health and well-being. This proved to be true even if the people spent the 2 hours all at once or spread out the time over the course of the week.
There is a kind of well-being that goes beyond contentment and just feeling good. It is more a feeling of having meaningful purpose in life; a feeling that could be called 'blessedness.' It's called eudaemonic well-being.
Now scientists are beginning to focus on 'blue spaces', finding that water environments are also good for well-being. It's likely that most of us have figured that out already, but hey...it's research. For example, I just thought I liked to walk on the beach and the sun and wind and sound of the water made me feel good. Now I've learned that there is an ionization process going on there that is actually healing to my body in addition to the rest Amazing...
So get out there and get some green space everyone and if you want to go for broke, the blue space is free, too!