Nature’s Health Benefits
It is widely accepted that time spent outdoors has both physical and psychological benefits. Yet, the average person spends nearly 87% of their time indoors and 7% of their time in vehicles. Put another way, most of us spend less than 5 hours per week in natural environments.
This is a shame; studies have shown that a variety of physiological benefits can be derived from time spent in “greenspace,” including reduced risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. Time spent outdoors is also associated with lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Further, the bacteria found in plant life may help boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
Some data suggests that even looking at nature from indoors can make a difference. Research conducted at a hospital in Pennsylvania found that surgery patients who had views of the outdoors from their rooms had shorter stays, fewer treatment complications, and used fewer painkillers.
Similarly, there is evidence to suggest that the presence of plants in indoor environments can promote health and well being. Studies done in both professional offices and schools indicate a relationship between the amount of indoor greenery and the frequency of illness-related absences. The more plants students and workers were exposed to in their offices and classrooms, the fewer sick days they took.
Take Advantage Of The Outdoors
How can you increase your time interacting with the natural world? Bringing it into your home is the easiest way, using houseplants and container gardens. Most plants need only light, soil, and water to thrive, making them suitable for urban spaces.
Consider modifications to your daily routine to enable more connections with nature. Could you walk to work rather than Ubering? What about spending five minutes with your morning coffee on the porch, or looking out the window? Maybe you could take Fido for an evening spin around the neighborhood rather than letting him out in the yard.
There are plenty of ways to interact with nature on a daily basis that require minimal effort.
The Perks of Living in DC
Luckily for our community, there are tons of opportunities to connect with the natural world. Washington, DC ranks third in the nation for best park system, according to the Trust for Public Land. More than 20% of the city is comprised of green space, and 97% of residents live within a half-mile of a park. Additionally, DC boasts botanical gardens, a nationally-renowned Cherry Blossom Festival, a variety of local house-plant boutiques, and farmer’s markets in most neighborhoods. There are groups for bird-watching, running, biking, rowing, sailing, and hiking, along with gorgeous outdoor spaces like Rock Creek Park, the National Arboretum, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and more.
To learn more about the role of nature to help us maintain balance and well being, please join us for Nature as Nurture: Natural Approaches to Self-Care at the Viva Center, May 17, from 6-8 pm. You’ll learn how activities like forest bathing, animal-assisted therapy, and reiki can support mind and body health. Our very own Alina McClerklin, LICSW, and our friend Candida DeLuise are just two of the fabulous speakers you’ll get a chance to work with.
Email HPG Chairperson Elizabeth Piren for more details.
Erin Ross, MS OTR/L is an occupational therapist and an aspiring science writer in DC. She believes in evidence-based practice, clear communication in healthcare, and diligent inclusion of the Oxford comma.