MEDICAL INSIGHTS: Not going outside, nor exercising causes nature deficit disorder

February 3, 2019

There seems to be growing concern that many of us humans, particularly kids, are not spending enough time outdoors and this could negatively influence our behavior and therefore cause problems. Richard Louv coined the term nature deficit disorder and has spent a considerable amount of time, basically over ten years speaking to parents and children about his concerns.

Louv authored the book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder.” Published in 2008, this book has become quite popular with those who have noticed that our children seem to be spending less time playing outdoors and are otherwise inside staring at computer screens. It has been mentioned that exposure to nature may be beneficial to health and also decrease stress.

Also parents may be over protective by keeping their kids inside to avoid danger. However some authorities feel that children with minimal time outside with nature are more prone to anxiety, attention disorders and even depression. There is even a movement supported by people like Louv called No Child Left Inside that encourages funding for environmental education. Some believe that today’s children may not live longer than their parents and this in part could be related to excessive screen time and minimal time playing outdoors. Unstructured play, especially playing outdoors promotes creativity and social interaction.

Approximately 99.9 percent of the time of human evolution has been spent in nature or at least with nature. However as of 2008 the majority of humans now live in cities. This has concerned the Japanese in particular. They now have a term called “forest bathing”. Citizens are encouraged to leave the cities and walk on nature trails in the forests of Japan and reap the calming benefits of nature. One researcher has measured blood pressure and indicators of stress such as salivary cortisol levels before and after such walks in nature. Those who spent time in the forest have better recordings than those who walk in an urban environment. The belief is that our physiology respond differently to certain habitats.

Biophilia is a word used for the title of a book authored by Edward O. Wilson in 1984. He seems to believe that humans seek connections with other forms of life and nature. Walking especially in a forested environment has health benefits. Art Kramer is an exercise physiologist who believes that 40 minutes of daily walking protects the aging brain from cognitive decline. Jefferson, Nietzsche, Rousseau, and Aristotle were walkers, sometimes just to clear their minds or to be more creative. Nikola Tesla was walking in a Budapest park when he invented what has been described as a ” revolutionary engine.”

It has been recommended that we should exercise for at least 150 minutes per week. Now it also seems that we should spend at least 5 hours a month outside in nature. Walking could fulfill both of those recommendations. Walking outside as opposed to walking on a a treadmill might be a better choice.

Some authors have stated that we as humans have become weaker during the last 10,000 years. Modern conveniences may be partially responsible for that perceived decline. It does appear, however, that movement and exercise are essential for optimal health and nature just may be a silent contributor to our well-being. Being appreciative of nature is important in many ways. Lets hope that nature deficit disorder is not here to stay.

If you are interested, please read “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative” by Florence Williams.

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