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David Suzuki: How Nature Benefits Human Health
If a home is not cleaned and cared for, it will become rundown and less habitable or even unlivable. It’s no different with our broader surroundings, from the immediate environment to the entire planet.
If we disconnect from the natural world, we become disconnected from who we are—to the detriment of our health and the health of the ecosystems on which our well-being and survival depend.
Adding 10 or more trees to a city block offered benefits to individuals equivalent to earning $10,000 more a year, moving to a neighborhood with $10,000 higher median income or being seven years younger. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Understanding that we’re part of nature and acting on that understanding makes us healthier and happier and encourages us to care for the natural systems around us. A growing body of science confirms this, including two recent studies that explore the ways nature benefits human health.
A Toronto-based study, published in Nature and co-authored by a team including University of Chicago psychologists Omid Kardan and Marc Berman and David Suzuki Foundation scientist Faisal Moola, examined the relationship between urban trees and human health. According to “Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center,” people living in areas with many trees, especially large trees, report feeling healthier than people in areas with fewer trees.
The other study, published in Ecosystem Services and co-authored by scientists from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reviewed a range of previous research to explore “observed and potential connections among nature, biodiversity, ecosystem services and human health and well-being.” The authors of “Exploring Connections Among Nature, Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Human Health and Well-being” concluded, “the signiﬁcance of biodiversity to human welfare is immense.”
According to the Toronto study, adding 10 or more trees to a city block offered benefits to individuals equivalent to earning $10,000 more a year, moving to a neighborhood with $10,000 higher median income or being seven years younger. As well as self-reporting of health and well-being, the study also found reduced rates of heart conditions, cancer, mental health problems and diabetes in areas with more trees.
— Woodsy Owl -official (@WoodsyOwl) August 18, 2015
The NOAA study delved even deeper into specific physical and mental health outcomes, finding that people living in areas with abundant green space live longer and experience lower rates of “anxiety and depression (especially), upper respiratory tract infections, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), severe intestinal complaints and infectious disease of the intestine” than people deprived of nature.
The researchers concluded that increased exposure to nature “can have positive effects on mental/psychological health, healing, heart rate, concentration, levels of stress, blood pressure, behavior and other health factors.”
They also found that, although evaluating nature according to the services it provides to humans “may lead to a human-centric view of the biosphere,” preserving these ecosystems and natural biodiversity for our own benefit will improve ecosystem health and the natural services other species need to survive and thrive.
As noted in a Toronto Star article, the Toronto research also found that, “within cities, urban tree lines often follow the fault lines of social, economic, political and ecological disparity.” In other words, protecting and increasing green spaces and improving access to them is a social justice as well as a health issue.
This isn’t news to anyone who gets outside regularly. People who spend at least 30 minutes a day in nature for 30 consecutive days as part of the David Suzuki Foundation’s annual 30X30 Nature Challenge report numerous benefits, including improved mood and vitality and a greater interest in the natural world. It’s why the Foundation is launching the Back to School Superhero Challenge on Sept. 21 to encourage kids, families, students and teachers to get outdoors, learn about environmental issues and make a difference.
"We are capable of even greater things, to rediscover our home, to find ways to live in balance with the sacred elements" -David Suzuki
— David Suzuki FDN (@DavidSuzukiFDN) August 26, 2015
Science is giving us a better understanding of the many ways preserving, caring for and restoring natural spaces can improve the lives of humans and other beings—and how connecting with nature increases our desire to protect and reduce our negative impacts on our surroundings.
Earth is our only home. But it’s more than that. We’re a part of the natural systems that make up our planet and its atmosphere and what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves—as I conveyed in my book The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature. It’s our duty to care for our immediate environment and all of the planet. Doing so will make us healthier and happier.
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Cabin fever is often associated with being cooped up on a rainy weekend or stuck inside during a winter blizzard.
In reality, though, it can actually occur anytime you feel isolated or disconnected from the outside world.
What is cabin fever?<p>In popular expressions, cabin fever is used to explain feeling bored or listless because you've been stuck inside for a few hours or days. But that's not the reality of the symptoms.</p><p>Instead, cabin fever is a series of negative emotions and distressing sensations people may face if they're isolated or feeling cut off from the world.</p><p>These feelings of isolation and loneliness are more likely in times of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/yes-covid-19-cases-are-rising-why-you-still-need-to-practice-social-distancing" target="_blank">social distancing</a>, self-quarantining during a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-a-pandemic" target="_blank">pandemic</a>, or sheltering in place because of severe weather.</p><p>Indeed, cabin fever can lead to a series of symptoms that can be difficult to manage without proper coping techniques.</p><p>Cabin fever isn't a recognized psychological disorder, but that doesn't mean the feelings aren't real. The distress is very real. It can make fulfilling the requirements of everyday life difficult.</p>
What are the symptoms?<p>Symptoms of cabin fever go far beyond feeling bored or "stuck" at home. They're rooted in an intense feeling of isolation and may include:</p><ul><li>restlessness</li><li>decreased motivation</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/irritability" target="_blank">irritability</a></li><li>hopelessness</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/unable-to-concentrate" target="_blank">difficulty concentrating</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/irregular-sleep-wake-syndrome" target="_blank">irregular sleep patterns</a>, including sleepiness or sleeplessness</li><li>difficulty waking up</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/lethargy" target="_blank">lethargy</a></li><li>distrust of people around you</li><li>lack of patience</li><li>persistent <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/depression-vs-sadness" target="_blank">sadness or depression<br></a></li></ul>
What can help you cope with cabin fever?<p>Because cabin fever isn't a recognized psychological condition, there's no standard "treatment." However, mental health professionals do recognize that the symptoms are very real.</p><p>The coping mechanism that works best for you will have a lot to do with your personal situation and the reason you're secluded in the first place.</p><p>Finding meaningful ways to engage your brain and occupy your time can help alleviate the distress and irritability that cabin fever brings.</p><p>The following ideas are a good place to start.</p>
When to get help<p>Cabin fever is often a fleeting feeling. You may feel irritable or frustrated for a few hours, but having a virtual chat with a friend or finding a task to distract your mind may help erase the frustrations you felt earlier.</p><p>Sometimes, however, the feelings may grow stronger, and no coping mechanisms may be able to successfully help you eliminate your feelings of isolation, sadness, or depression.</p><p>What's more, if your time indoors is prolonged by outside forces, like weather or extended shelter-in-place orders from your local government, feelings of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety" target="_blank">anxiety</a> and fear are valid.</p><p>In fact, anxiety may be at the root of some cabin fever symptoms. This may make symptoms worse.</p><p>If you feel that your symptoms are getting worse, consider reaching out to a mental health professional who can help you understand what you're experiencing. Together, you can identify ways to overcome the feelings and anxiety.</p><p>Of course, if you're in isolation or practicing social distancing, you'll need to look for alternative means for seeing a mental health expert.</p><p>Telehealth options may be available to connect you with your therapist if you already have one. If you don't, reach out to your doctor for recommendations about mental health specialists who can connect with you online.</p><p>If you don't want to talk to a therapist, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/top-iphone-android-apps" target="_blank">smartphone apps for depression</a> may provide a complementary option for addressing your cabin fever symptoms.</p>
The bottom line<p>Isolation isn't a natural state for many people. We are, for the most part, social animals. We enjoy each other's company. That's what can make staying at home for extended periods of time difficult.</p><p>However, whether you're sheltering at home to avoid dangerous weather conditions or heeding the guidelines to help minimize the spread of a disease, staying at home is often an important thing we must do for ourselves and our communities.</p><p>If and when it's necessary, finding ways to engage your brain and occupy your time may help bat back cabin fever and the feelings of isolation and restlessness that often accompany it.</p>
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