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Loving Nature: Perhaps it's in Our DNA

Caribbean Vista

We all crave views like this one on St. John

Why do people crave second homes in scenic locations? Why do we desire vacations on the beach or in the mountains? When people need to get away from it all for much needed rest and relaxation, they frequently head into nature or seek out beautiful vistas. Why? Because we feel better when we do.

It makes sense when you consider that 99.9% of human existence was spent inextricably tied to, living in, and working with nature. It's only been for the last 0.1% of humanity that we've lived in cities, shopped at grocery stores and used technology to handle the majority of our needs, including waste management, water treatment and delivery, animal rearing and butchering, and vegetable growing.

We are tied to nature through our DNA. We have not yet had enough time to evolve into our new surroundings. We are genetically no different than we were 1000 years ago, yet we couldn't be living more differently. And while some of us might beg to differ, we need to experience nature to be healthy.

Knot Garden

We plant elaborate gardens to connect with nature.

The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. The phrase was first coined to describe a psychological connection to nature and living things. Some modern scientists argue that our connection with nature is more than just psychological; it's biological.

If you believe the biophilia hypothesis as I do, that needing to be in nature is in our DNA, then it stands to reason that a lack of natural experiences would be detrimental to our health and well-being. This could explain why we have such a deep yearning to reconnect with nature through rooftop gardens, natural history museums, backyard chickens, city green spaces, protected open spaces, zoos and more. It's our modern way to fulfill that biological need any way we can, although most of us don't realize that's what's going on.

Cute Squirrel

Humans are drawn to cute, furry creatures like this one in Yosemite.

Many recent reports have shown a massive migration of people into cities and away from the countryside. We are more inundated by digital messaging and mass media than ever before. Social media and smart phones control our daily lives. Children spend less time than ever in the out of doors.

Paralleling the rise of the industrial and technological revolutions has also been the rise in the interest in the outdoors. More people than every before are attempting long-distance thru-hikes. Our national park system grows busier each year. Women now account for more than 51% of the outdoor industry's consumers. Adventure travel has become increasingly popular, year over year. Dude ranches are all the rage.

It's no coincidence that our desire to spend time outdoors has increased along with the rise of modern technology. On a very subconscious, evolutionary level, we need to feel that connection to the natural world and we seek it out regularly.

Scientists all over the world are researching how biophilia might explain the connection between the parallel increases. Furthermore, they are researching if and how the sharp increases in diseases like cancer and heart disease could be tied to our removal and disconnection from nature as we have known if for 99.9% of our existence. We all know that diet impacts health greatly, but could it be that our disassociation with Mother Earth is also directly affecting our health? More and more, studies around the world point to yes!

Through incredibly in-depth studies, scientists are documenting and charting the effect nature has on us biologically and emotionally, and it's far more profound than previously thought. Going for a walk in nature immediately lowers your blood pressure; going for a walk in the city does not have the same effect. Furthermore, a leisurely walk in a forest delivers a 12% decrease in cortisol levels; an urban walk had no effect.

Forrest Walk

Walking here is good for your body and mind!

Your blood contains a type of white blood cell known as NK cells. NK cells are immune cells that are natural born killers of diseases like cancer. Stress, aging and pollutants reduce our NK cells over time, but spending time in nature increases the numbers of NK cells in your body in truly impressive ways. Hiking can increase your NK cells by 40%! Unfortunately for city-dwellers, urban walking does not change your NK cell counts. Walking in a city park did have a similar effect, but it wasn't as profound and the benefits didn't last nearly as long.

Even if you don't go outside, you can trick your brain into thinking it's spending time in nature. Breathing in Hinoki cypress essential oil via a diffuser while you sleep (simulating a walk in a cypress forest) increases your body's cancer-fighting NK cells by 20%.

The benefits aren't just physical. Recent Stamford University studies show that hiking stimulates the center of the brain responsible for creativity. Not only did the people involved in the studies report feeling more creative, but brain scans showed actual evidence to back up their claims. Additionally, the various studies showed a direct correlation between how remote and wild the scenery and how long the physical benefits lasted; the more wild, the more of an effect.

A lot of this is nothing new, really; artists, academics and creative types have been reporting the benefits of spending time in nature for centuries. Now we have an abundance of science to back up their anecdotal claims.

Majestic Ancient Tree

Photos help preserve the feeling and effect nature has on us.

We need nature. No matter how busy your life, making time to explore, experience and spend time in natural settings is always possible. Take your lunch in the local park. Go for walks in or through parks and open space. Plant a garden. Go for a hike. Try a vacation to a wilderness area or national park. Use aromatherapy to mimic the natural world. Go for a scenic weekend drive. And, on occasion, immerse yourself completely in nature.

#gardening #GreatOutdoors #H #W