European Wilderness Academy Dayst

This is the title of a recent article in National Geographic which emphasis the importance of getting closer to nature whether it is untouched wilderness or your closest park. When we slow down and take in natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored but our mental performance improves too. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist, has studied the effects of nature on the brain and has found that when people spend time in nature, it allows the brain to dial down. We are doing our overstressed brains a favor by giving it a chance to rest He goes on to say that it takes about 3 days for the brain to be ‘cleansed’ and when returning back from nature, people are 50% better on creative problem solving tasks and feel more relaxed.

This idea is nothing new, as far back as the Cyrus the Great, who 2,500 years ago was building gardens for relaxation from the busy Persian capital. Paracelsus, the 16th century German-Swiss physician, had the same intuition; he wrote ¨the art of healing comes from nature not a physician.¨ American writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Muir also inherited such an outlook. It seems we are finally just waking up to the fact that we need nature. The large-scale public health problems such as obesity, depression and pervasive nearsightedness, are all associated with too much time spent indoors. Studies show that nature has restorative effects on the mind and body, primarily lowering stress but it has even been shown that patients in hospitals that can see trees and grass recover faster, students perform better in school and even display less violent behavior in neighborhoods.

All the evidence for the benefits of spending time in nature for humans but yet it’s at a time when the disconnection from nature is pervasive. Per capita visits to national parks is in decline since the dawn of email, people are forgetting about or underestimating the happiness effect of nature. People think that having the new flat screen TV will make them happy but really they just need an afternoon at the closest national park or green space.

Some countries like Finland are taking it to the next level, as it grapples with high rates of depression, alcoholism and suicide, the government is recommending a minimum nature dose of 5 hours per month and several short visits per week to green spaces. However, no country has embraced the medicalization of nature more than the South Koreans. The Korean Forest services used to study timber yields now they also study the effects of forest therapy on alcoholics and other types of social ills. Perhaps it is time the Europe as a whole not just in places like Finland that bring nature to the forefront of solving some of the modern ills. It certainly could be a cost effective way to deal with many of todays most pressing mental and physical health problems. Wilderness, nature’s hospital.

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Karin Eckhard is an international sustainable tourism expert based in Madrid, Spain

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