Prescribing Nature as the Cure: Ecotherapy

Human beings need exposure to nature for their physical and mental health.
Human beings need exposure to nature for their physical and mental health.

Human beings need exposure to nature for their physical and mental health.

When I first started writing this blog over two years ago in 2013, one of the first topics I wrote about was the concept of biophilia, the study of the connection between human beings and nature. I’m sure a lot of people thought the idea was a little “out there.”

We have come a long way in thinking about how nature affects our well-being in that time. This month, the respected magazine The Atlantic published an article called “The Nature Cure.” It is all about the growing practice of medical professionals including mental health specialists actually prescribing nature to their patients to help treat their ills.

The article quotes two people I deeply respect and have mentioned many times in previous blog posts, Roger S. Ulrich and Richard Louv. Roger is the Texas A&M University researcher who studied the healing properties of nature views outside hospital rooms. Richard is a San Diego based journalist who wrote the book “Last Child in the Woods” ten years ago, one of the very first about the modern movement to introduce nature into our everyday lives to improve our health. He came up with the term “nature deficit disorder.” It describes our lack of a relationship to the environment which he believes causes a range of behavioral problems in children and adults. While it isn’t a formal medical diagnosis, the term has become widely accepted. It simply makes sense.

I’m not a researcher or a journalist. I am just your humble “Eco Warrior.” But I have the advantage of working with plants and introducing nature into the urban and indoor environments every day. It’s what we have done for three decades at Good Earth Plant Company. I see the results every single day and my work in the field confirms everything Roger, Richard, and the author of the new Atlantic Magazine article have written about. Human beings are better off in every possible way with regular, sustained exposure to nature.

Get outside, it's good for you.

Get outside, it’s good for you.

Now there are people devoted to the professional practice of ecotherapy. Ecotherapists employ nature-based exercises to help their patients address both mental and physical health problems. They recommend therapies like walks in a park, planting a garden, keeping a journal about the change of seasons, listening to birds singing. It can be a holistic way to foster your well-being, or supplement standards-based medical treatment.

Researchers have discovered over the last 10 years that people get more benefit from exercising outdoors than indoors. A British study published in September 2015 showed a high exposure to natural environments (green space and gardens) in communities was associated with fewer mental disorders among older people.

Increasing the accessibility of green environments in local areas by encouraging the development of parks and other green recreational space could help improve our health. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Our ancestors evolved in a natural environment. Deep down in our bones, we should feel more comfortable and more relaxed in our deep-seated “home” environment. It should lend to making us feel healthier, more focused and more relaxed. We’re being told to eat like cavemen to stay healthy. If you believe the “Paleo Diet” works, why not a prescription for nature to cure us from the stresses of our always-wired world we live in?