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Why Getting Outdoors in Nature is So Primally Important

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  • Why Getting Outdoors in Nature is So Primally Important

    I had a few insights this morning, going for a walk in the woods with my son Greg. Greg is 20 years old, and has autism, bipolar disorder, and panic disorder with agoraphobia. Left to his own devices right now, he's spent an entire day in his room on his computer. This is, as you know, very unhealthy.

    I have finally convinced him that he needs to spend time every day engaging in more healthful behaviors. So for two days now we have gone for a walk in the woods.

    Because Greg is interested in neuroscience, I started talking about why walking in nature is so critical for our health. I found myself explaining it this way:

    We are animals, and our brains are uniquely designed to respond to natural stimuli. Small examples include walking on uneven terrain. A simple thing like a trail instead of a sidewalk ramble multiples exponentially "brain exercise." The sensory inputs from the feet and the complex kinesthestic integration and response are MUCH more complex on an uneven trail than on a sidewalk or paved road or even a quarter-mile track.

    Then there's olfactory stimulation, stimulation of visual cortex (which is in the occipital lobe), and auditory (bird calls, the rustle of small animals in the brush, the sound of breeze through the trees, water rushing, etc.)

    I think these stimuli are uniquely important to our health. For example, as hunting animals we are programmed to respond to flickers of movement, especially rapidly changing flickers of movement. Television takes advantage of this and so the commercials are full of quick-changing visuals. It's why we can sit entranced in front of the tube for so long. It's why even young children can watch Sesame Street for a relatively long time.

    But it's really adaptive out in the natural world.

    My son felt better today than he has in WEEKS, if not MONTHS. He felt SO much better he's willing to become a dedicated hiker with me.

    Today we did one mile in the woods. Tomorrow, we're aiming for 1.5. At this rate we will be meeting the goal of the bottom of the fitness pyramid of the PB. I am very grateful.

    Girl
    Last edited by PrimalWannabeGirl; 09-18-2010, 12:31 PM.

  • #2
    Wonderfully true, even for us neurotypicals. Thank you for a great post PWGirl.
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    • #3
      Originally posted by PrimalWannabeGirl View Post
      My son felt better today than he has in WEEKS, if not MONTHS. He felt SO much better he's willing to become a dedicated hiker with me.
      That is soooo awesome PWG!! Very inspiring to the rest of us as well, to just get OUT THERE! Thanks for the scientific explanations as well. Awesome.
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      • #4
        Great summary, great story, and great outcome! Bravo!
        "Trust me, you will soon enter a magical land full of delicious steakflowers, with butterbacons fluttering around over the extremely rompable grass and hillsides."

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        • #5
          It looks like you are on to something. Have you heard of the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv? It has been on my "must read" list for a while but to be honest I have not gotten to it yet. Maybe because I don't have kids yet I haven't made it a priority to check out. Anyway, a friend of mine told me about it and she thought it was fascinating then later my sister who is a teacher also told me about it. It talks about all the ways nature effects the mental and physical development of children and how much a child can learn just by being allowed to be a child at play outdoors. Here is the Amazon.com synopsis:

          Today's kids are increasingly disconnected from the natural world, says child advocacy expert Louv (Childhood's Future; Fatherlove; etc.), even as research shows that "thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can... be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorder and other maladies." Instead of passing summer months hiking, swimming and telling stories around the campfire, children these days are more likely to attend computer camps or weight-loss camps: as a result, Louv says, they've come to think of nature as more of an abstraction than a reality. Indeed, a 2002 British study reported that eight-year-olds could identify Pokémon characters far more easily than they could name "otter, beetle, and oak tree." Gathering thoughts from parents, teachers, researchers, environmentalists and other concerned parties, Louv argues for a return to an awareness of and appreciation for the natural world. Not only can nature teach kids science and nurture their creativity, he says, nature needs its children: where else will its future stewards come from? Louv's book is a call to action, full of warnings—but also full of ideas for change.
          Last edited by Leanne; 09-18-2010, 01:57 PM. Reason: coherency
          The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease. - Thomas Edison

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          • #6
            This great news for you PWG! I hope he (and you) continue to benefit from time spent in nature.

            My kids do so much better when they are out *in nature*. Not just outside walking in our urban area, but deep in the nature preserve we're so lucky to have at the end of our street.

            The woods, the wild animals, the dense vegetation.....all so primally appropriate.

            K



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            • #7
              Yay!!!
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              • #8
                This makes a lot of sense! I always feel amazing when i'm out in nature. Even if i walk by a park that has freshly cut grass or if it just rained.. It smells/sounds/looks amazing to me. Great post!

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                • #9
                  I grew up in a rural area and always loved the woods and hills. And have spent a lot of time at sea, both for fun and professionally. Being in these kinds of places, being outdoors and being one with the outdoors, whether hunting, fishing, hiking or cruising, even painting, finding your way, puts you in touch with something, some kind of a force or power that you don't see any other way. It's damn spiritual in my view.

                  I didn't put it as well as you did, PWG, but you are definitely on to something that calls to us all, even though most of us don't know about it.

                  I hope this thread gets some more hits.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Sam Cree View Post
                    Being in these kinds of places, being outdoors and being one with the outdoors, whether hunting, fishing, hiking or cruising, even painting, finding your way, puts you in touch with something, some kind of a force or power that you don't see any other way. It's damn spiritual in my view.
                    I think the arts or anything creative definitely has this type of effect on us. They are something spiritual and cerebral at the same time, just like nature - and if it's involving nature too, even better! It's too bad that this isn't taught much (if at all) in mainstream society.

                    I hope this thread gets some more hits.
                    +1

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                    • #11
                      Sounds like progress. I don't think any of us would deny the benefits - even if it is just to be alone with our thoughts.

                      Have you been to evoltionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com? some great info, explained in simple terms. If Greg is interested in neuroscience, he might find it informative.

                      Goin for a walk now...

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                      • #12
                        Ok.....here's a hit! BAM!

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                        • #13
                          I definitely need to do more of this.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Mog View Post
                            Sounds like progress. I don't think any of us would deny the benefits - even if it is just to be alone with our thoughts.

                            Have you been to evoltionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com?
                            Yes. Emily Dean's blog is *fantastic*. right up there with heartscan, cooling inflammation, hyperlipid etc



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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Sam Cree View Post
                              Being in these kinds of places, being outdoors and being one with the outdoors, whether hunting, fishing, hiking or cruising, even painting, finding your way, puts you in touch with something, some kind of a force or power that you don't see any other way. It's damn spiritual in my view.
                              I'd go as far as to say that for me personally, being outdoors is just about the MOST spiritual experience I've had.
                              I just got back from a 12 mile backpacking trip this weekend, and got to spend two days enjoying the fall colors in the mountains here. Way, way, way more fulfilling than spending a weekend sitting in front of a television and drinking beer, which is unfortunately what most people do on their weekends nowadays.
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