The Benefits of Ecotherapy

By Larraine Roulston:

Today’s generation of children is spending less time in natural settings. One example is that most elementary students no longer walk home for lunch. In this age of technology, most teenagers and adults as well are nature deprived.

This revelation has resulted in scientists identifying the disadvantages of excessive screen time and indoor living. “Ecotherapy” promotes an approach of investing more effort into being in a natural environment. It stresses both the physical and psychological advantages of lessening our time in artificial settings by becoming more in tune with nature and enjoying its accompanying health benefits.

From a physical standpoint, activities that are combined with nature such as rock climbing, canoeing or cycling tend to be the most enjoyable endeavors. Volleyball is more entertaining when it’s played on a beach. Tai Chi is known as an exercise performed in a park at daybreak. The ukulele, notably the instrument most fun to learn and play, is generally strummed outdoors. Gardening offers good physical movement and is also a great way to obtain morning sunlight, which may explain the reasons that regular gardeners live longer.

A 2009 study on mental health discovered that residents living near a greenbelt or city park were less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety. Other research revealed that people who spend regular time outdoors hiking or even resting in a forest have measurably lower blood pressure, lower heart rate levels, and possess a stronger immune system than those who remain indoors.

Psychologists Andrea Taylor and Frances Kuo from the University of Illinois found that children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) experienced a significant reduction in symptoms after engaging in nature-surrounded activities.

The theory of “grounding,” which is having your body come into direct contact with the earth — such as walking barefoot, digging in the soil or swimming in lakes — tends to have a positive impact on one’s ability to sleep. Grounding also reduces inflammation. Housebound residents can get the benefits of grounding indoors by obtaining earthing mats or sheets.

If you are craving trees and flowers, perhaps you are lacking exposure to Vitamin D. Although supplemental Vitamin D is available, there are those who need sun exposure to get adequate Vitamin D. It is also thought that morning sun may help reduce the risk of obesity as well as improve thyroid health.

Researchers are seeing an increase in nearsightedness developing in children who spend more time indoors. Prior to TV and computers, children played outdoors, where their developing eyes took in a variety of colors as well as levels of brightness and depth. A 2007 study speculated that a lack of natural light hinders young eyes in developing the correct distance between retina and lens.

With our increasingly airtight home insulation, we are regularly breathing in more household chemicals. Outdoor air has a healing effect, especially if you are lucky to be near a park, the ocean, a waterfall or river rapids. For those stuck inside, obtain several air-improving spider plants.

Nature is calling! In British Columbia, the Sierra Club BC is promoting its October Outdoor Challenge as a fundraiser. Sign up to take the daily challenge to spend 30 minutes outdoors. Ask family members, friends and neighbors to sponsor your environmental commitment as you help raise money for the Sierra Club’s important work.

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Larraine writes a children’s illustrated book series on composting and pollinating. To view, visit www.castlecompost.com.

Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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