But IT is also restorative?

I was recently invited to take part in a connecting to nature one day event organised by ACF and attended by some distinguished guests which included Richard Louv. It was wonderful to hear what different organisations are doing to develop opportunities to get outside and in nature. However, it got me thinking …. Why do young people prefer time with electronics, or TV or similar. Can we really blame the cotton wool society? is it really just a lack of opportunity? If we did have more opportunities for young people to get back into nature would it really make such a big difference? Are we so passionate about the benefits that we are missing something really important here?
I was talking about this with a good friend of mine who is also a psychologist and a very big fan of computer games. From his perspective nature is something to be avoided and only entered if a necessity. I asked him what he got from his games and he told me that he found his time with computer games engaging, restorative and relaxing he described the experience in terms of excitement, being lost in the moment and providing an opportunity to connect with other like minded people. Not quite what I had expected. Since this conversation I have also had a chance to chat to some young people and found that many see TV and computers as relaxing and an opportunity for time out from the hustle and bustle of everyday. And indeed research has picked up on this as in Birmingham there is a virtual nature walk which means you don’t even have to leave your bedroom to walk on a virtual Cornwall beach.
It might be that the quality of these experiences are vastly different from the ones we are trying to promote and I for one certainly hope so. The evidence is there as well … We have wonderful work coming from a variety of centres around the world that are showing that views of nature (virtual, images of nature or real), opportunities to interact in nature (e.g. Running, walking or cricket) and opportunities to engage with nature all have health benefits. We have evidence now that a variety different types of activities undertaken in nature have benefits. Adventures ranging from soft thought hard and to extreme adventures have been associated with health benefits. Physical activity is also something that has been shown to have benefits from sedentary activities to vigorous activities. We have studies on forest bathing, green exercise and wilderness trips. We even have a few meta analysis that suggest nature has something more than just increasing physical activity.
However, we also have studies that show the opposite, studies that force us to sit up and rethink our strategies. It is not enough I think to keep pushing the same story. If we are convinced we are right then we need to reconsider our theories, we need to understand more about exactly how does nature enhance health and wellbeing.
I was in another conversation on this matter recently and it seems I am not alone in these thoughts. If we really want to make a difference, counteract nature blindness, reconnect to nature we really need to be able to provide some answers to this question. Biophilia works to an extent .. But it is hard to test and easy to argue against. It works well for the converted …. But not for my game loving friend. ART and PET are also easy to refute.
We need something more. Research we have undertaken suggests that it is not so much about needing continual experiences that benefits health and wellbeing because we have found that feeling connected to nature is related to enhanced wellbeing.
There are some studies that are starting this journey. For example, a research group in UQ at the moment are working on an idea that characteristics of nature … E.g biodiversity, might be the key. This could be an interesting idea, in the UK there are suggestions that early experiences might trigger connections and it is these memories that stay with us.
I have an idea though that it will turn out to be based on the relationship between individual characteristics and environment characteristics. The romantic period instilled a perspective on nature that focuses on how nature looks however, when kids play in nature they are more interested in opportunities to do things. Streams become places to paddle, sticks become throwable or tools for digging, trees become climbable or places to hide. What if trees were also places to test out emotions … Something that opens up a variety or opportunities that might involve climbing but also opportunities to feel scared without being judged, feeling excited when the first branch is climbed even though we felt scared. What if the sounds, sights, smells, tastes, feelings that seem to happen all at once in a natural place facilitates a mindful state?
Finding out more about how the relationship between nature and people enhances our health and wellbeing will mean that we can speak more effectively to the non believers and the sceptics. We will be able to explain more effectively how to make the best use of public spaces, what needs to happen when we take children outdoors, how best to enhance planning policy and provide free health opportunities.

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