To Your Good Health: ‘Natural healing’ starts with nature
Updated: August 2, 2012 5:25AM
PARK RIDGE — When most people hear the phrase “natural healing” they think of herbal remedies and ancient therapies. But there’s an even older, simpler source of healing that’s just outside your door: nature itself.
In a recent issue of the AARP bulletin, author Richard Louv quoted developmental psychologist Marti Erickson as saying that nature may be one of the best and most accessible stress-busters. Louv, author of the bestselling 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, introduced the term, “nature-deficit disorder.” It’s not a medical diagnosis (at least not yet) but a description of the effect on children who spend most of their time immersed in technology rather than in nature.
In his article, Louv notes that “more time in nature — or in home, work or hospital environments enhanced through nature-based design” is linked with “reduction in stress and depression, faster healing time and less need for pain medication.” He cites a 2008 University of Michigan study where subjects’ memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent after an hour of interaction with nature; and a 2012 study at the University of Kansas that reported a 50-percent increase in creativity for subjects “steeped in nature” for a few days.
Will biking, hiking or strolling in the park cure major illnesses, mental or physical? No. But it can make a real difference in mood, motivation and physical comfort, overall. In other words, it can make us healthier.
Perhaps the one good thing about the current health-care-affordability crisis is the focus on preventive care. We know chronic stress can be life-threatening, and many of us live under that condition today. We also know that moderate levels of anxiety, depression, aches and pains caused by stress, inactivity and other modern habits can be alleviated by spending time walking, gardening and other low-impact outdoor activities. We know that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that renders many people miserable during the winter months can be alleviated by use of natural-spectrum sun lamps, but how much better to put on some sunscreen and get moving out in the real thing?
And what about our kids, those who can’t sit still and those who sit around too much? Hanging around outdoors can help the former be a bit more calm and focused and give the latter incentive to move. (Even if they’re strolling with the phone to their ear, they’re moving, right?) With half of all American adults and a third of kids overweight, getting outdoors is probably the easiest way to alleviate that unhealthy condition. In a safe, green city like ours, it’s certainly the cheapest way.
You don’t even have to be on the move to benefit from Nature. It’s not by accident that the more attractive office complexes, universities and public buildings incorporate parks and water features, from ponds to fountains, in their landscapes. Check out the path-encircled Wildwood Nature Center pond on Sibley in Park Ridge, Oakton Community College’s pond or Axehead Lake, and any of the other parks in the area for a fast therapeutic break. Plants in the home can not only provide a calming effect, some, such as the peace lily, can actually clean the air of pollutants that aggravate allergies. Check out the Park Ridge Community Center display of air-cleaning plants.
Humans instinctively know how to help ourselves to natural healing found in greenery, fresh air and water. When we’re upset, we go for a walk around the block or take a bubble bath; remedies free of side effects of what experts call ATOD (alcohol, tobacco and other drugs).
Of course, any health problem, emotional or physical, should be diagnosed and modern medicine is often the solution. But try a little dose of nature at the same time, and see how much better you can feel.
It’s only natural.
— Peter N. Ryan is a Park Ridge-based attorney, Emergency First Aid trainer and chairman of the mayor-appointed Park Ridge Community Health Commission. Mary Wynn Ryan is a Park Ridge-based communications consultant and an elected Park Ridge Park District Commissioner.