It’s reasonably well known that crowded urban environments create enough stress that physical and mental performance declines in biological species. (I remember a reading about a study done on rats years ago that showed that at a certain level of crowding female rats began to spontaneously end pregnancies with miscarriages and were more likely to eat the babies if they were live born.) There’s evidence that too much crowding in a human environment causes a measurable and significant decline in mental and physical function – something on the order of 20% or so.
I once wrote on an essay I submitted for some position along the way that “there’s nothing that has ever happened to me that I haven’t been able to manage in some way by spending time in the outdoors”. I thought it was just me, and the fact that the happiest memories of my childhood are the days that I spent in the summers basically living outdoors.
Now I’m reading that there’s something more fundamental going on. According to a new study from the University of Michigan:
“‘Interacting with nature can have similar effects as meditating,’ Berman said. ‘People don’t have to enjoy the walk to get the benefits. We found the same benefits when it was 80 degrees and sunny over the summer as when the temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in January. The only difference was that participants enjoyed the walks more in the spring and summer than in the dead of winter.'”
Read the full article here.
We started a new program here at the Cathedral this winter. We meet twice a month for a Sat. morning hike. We do a relatively easy hike and call it the “Dean’s Hike” and a then alternate that with much more challenging hike (led by the Cathedral Wardens) and called the “Wardens’ Walk”. We’ve had as many as 25 people join us. Phoenix is particularly well suited for this given the extensive park system within the city boundaries.
I thought I’d been feeling better as a result… Now I’m thinking it’s not just the physical exercise that I’m noticing. There’s an increase in creativity and decreases in mental stress that’s going on as well. Perhaps I need to be a little more pushy about encouraging others to join me.
(h/t to Slashdot.)