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The Science Behind Nature

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported what many of us already knew but were waiting for science to catch up and make official: spending time in nature is good, if not imperative for our health and well-being. According to Gretchen Daily, a professor of environmental science at Stanford University, who was quoted in the article, “There’s an urgent need emerging in science and at the gut level to increase the nature experience. This field is just exploding.”

(Trails in our local parks offer opportunity for exercise and being in nature.)

(Even large cities like New York have opportunities to be close to nature.)

According to Betsy Morris, the article’s author, the benefits (of being outdoors) have been clear to scientists for some time, but the pandemic has made the matter more urgent. The physical and emotional toll the virus has taken, especially in urban areas with little green space, has galvanized doctors, researchers, and others to tap into nature’s therapeutic effects.  She goes on to write that Scientists have repeatedly found that human anticancer natural killer cells significantly increase after walks in a forest. In one such study, published in 2010 in the Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents, the number and activity of killer cells increased in a group of twelve healthy men after two walks, each two hours long, in a one-day trip to a forest park in the Tokyo suburbs. So did anti-cancer proteins, according to the research led by Qing Li, an associate professor at the Nippon Medical School. Cortisol in the blood and adrenaline in the urine significantly decreased. The effects lasted at least seven days. The researchers found time in a forest is linked to decreased inflammation, which has been implicated in chronic disease.

While research is still in its early stages for quantifying time spent outside with improved health, the early reports are quite promising in validating what many of us already knew.  What will be helpful is identifying how much time is required to be spent outside before the physical and mental benefits take hold. For those who measure their day in steps walked, miles jogged, reps accomplished with weights, having a number, a goal helps them focus and meet an objective.

“What we have seen, especially last year spent grappling with COVID was a renewal in people wanting to improve their landscapes,” shares Peter Wimberg. “It went beyond a green lawn, with a stronger focus on creating landscapes that are in alignment with nature. This means more woodland gardens and pollinator gardens with winding paths or walks within the landscape. In short we are seeing a movement in which homeowners want to infuse nature into their own landscape.”

The article goes on to share, Brent Bucknum, founder of the Hyphae Design Laboratory in Oakland, Calif., along with other scientists is studying the biophysics of vegetation in neighborhoods in Louisville, Ky., to test urban greening the way a new pharmaceutical would be tested. In one case, he is measuring the direct impact on residents’ health—asthma, heart disease, dementia—before and after planting 8,000 trees… Very small environmental fluctuations from one backyard to another can result in big differences to the health of people who live there.

“When we talk about investing in your landscape, we are certainly looking beyond the added value to your home, we are talking about bettering the physical as well as mental well-being of that family. It gives us all a new appreciation for the work landscape and garden designers contribute,” says Peter Wimberg.

If you are ready to create a more natural experience in your own landscape, call us.

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