Earth Day 2022- Nature as Medicine
Earth Day is a celebration that allows us to honor and recognize the beautiful earth we live on.
The holiday is held annually on April 22, with the first ever Earth Day being in 1970. Earth Day began as a way to mobilize people to recognize living organisms and raise awareness about environmentally conscious behaviors.
Today, Earth Day mobilizes over 1 billion individuals through action and service activities. Over 190 countries participate in the day and use it to celebrate the beauty of nature.
Not only is embracing the Earth good to raise awareness about environmental issues, but it’s good for our health too!
Studies have shown that spending time in nature, even for periods as short as 20 minutes, has tremendous effects on our mental and physical health.
We have compiled a list of the top health benefits of nature to get you outside this Earth Day to experience the medicine of nature.
The History of Earthy Day
Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson had long been concerned about worsening environment conditions within the United States. His concern was brought to the breaking point after the January 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Nelson had a vision to infuse aspects of student anti-war protests with an emerging public consciousness about air and water.
Senator Nelson announced the idea for a teach-in on college campuses to the national media. He collaborated with Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to co-chair the event. They then recruited Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize the campus events. April 22 was chosen as it fell between Spring Break and Final Exams, maximizing the potential for student engagement.
Recognizing the potential of this even to inspire all Americans and those abroad, Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events. The effort soon broadened to include a wide range of organizations, which immediately sparked national attention and caught on across the country.
Earth Day 1970 inspired over 20 million Americans to demonstrate against the impacts of industrialization and its legacy of human health impacts. More importantly, Earth Day was able to unify people across political lines to come together in the name of Mother Nature.
From here, Earth Day continued to grow to be a global event bringing people together across the world stage.
Today is no different, as people continue to come out in droves to support the Earth.
If you are interested in learning more about the inspiring story of Earth Day, please visit the celebration’s official website.
Health Benefits of Nature
Spending time in nature can calm our busy brains. Research has shown that interacting with nature can have immense cognitive benefits.
For example, green spaces near schools promote cognitive development in children and green views near the home promote children’s self-control behaviors.
Experiments have reported that being exposed to nature improves working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control. On the other hand, exposure to urban environments has been linked to attention deficits.
Why is this the case? Scientists have proposed a number of ideas, with the biophilia hypothesis arguing that since our ancient ancestors lived in wild settings to survive, we have an innate drive to connect with nature.
The stress reduction hypothesis posits that spending time in nature triggers a physiological response that lowers stress, thus subconsciously encouraging us to go outside. A third theory, attention restoration theory, believes that nature replenishes our ability to concentrate and pay attention.
Experimental findings show that nature can have impressive impacts, with just a few moments in a green space being able to perk up the brain.
Not just the look of nature, but the sounds too, have shown to be recuperative. A study found that participants who listened to nature sounds like crickets chirping and waves crashing performed better on demanding cognitive tests than those who listened to city sounds.
This may explain the increased popularity of sound machines and apps like Calm, both which play nature sounds, to help people fall asleep.
Not only is nature good at improving our cognitive performance, but it has emotional and existential benefits too.
A study at the University of Washington found that contact with nature is associated with increased happiness, well-being, positive affect, positive social interaction and a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Additionally, being outside showed a decrease in mental distress.
Researchers in Denmark found that early childhood exposure to green spaces led to a reduced risk of psychiatric disorders later in life, including depression, mood disorders, eating disorders and substance abuse. For those with lower exposure to nature, the risk of developing mental illness was 55% higher.
There has even been recent evidence that images and simulated version of nature can be beneficial. A study found that exposure to nature, in person or via video, led to improvements in attention, positive emotions, and the ability to reflect on a life problem.
While the real thing is the best, virtual reality nature experiences can be beneficial to people who are unable to get outdoors, such as those with mobility problems or illness.
Nicer with Nature
Not only does it make us happy, but nature can improve our treatment of others.
A study involving children found that those who went on a nature field trip acted more prosocial to classmates and strangers than they did after visiting an aviation museum.
Being in nature can help increase our levels of Vitamin D, which is an important factor in mood regulation. Sufficient levels of Vitamin D increase the availability of serotonin in the brain, which leaves us feeling happy.
Time in nature, as long as you feel safe in the environment, can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety and improve mood- all things that will help you feel less stressed and anxious day-to-day.
Symptoms of attention deficit disorder and aggression also lessen in nature, which allows the body to speed its rate of healing.
Stepping outside can give your body the release it needs to focus on internal issues, creating healing properties that can help you feel better.
With so many benefits linked to being in nature, it’s important to know how much time outside is enough. With busy schedules and the increased commonality of working from home, it can be hard to see the sun.
A study in the UK found that people who spent at least 2 hours in nature the previous week reported significantly greater health and well-being.
The amount of time spent in nature isn’t the only element to consider. It’s also important to feel connected to the natural world even when sitting inside or stuck at work. Researches have coined a few terms for this, such as nature relatedness or connectedness to nature.
Whatever the name, connectedness to nature benefits mood and health. A study from University of Derby in England found that people who feel more connected to nature have a greater eudemonic well-being, a type of contentment that goes beyond just feeling good.
This relationship to nature can buffer the effects of loneliness and social isolation. People who have low social connectedness by high levels of nearby nature have shown to report high levels of wellbeing, despite a lack of social interaction.
Take the time to get Outside
This Earth Day, give your body the gift of nature. Spending time outside will allow you to celebrate the Earth, its environments, and the natural medicine that is all around us.