I’m not talking about a spirulina smoothie, though that can be good for you, too. Nope, it’s actually “Vitamin N” that’s the focus – “N” for “nature.” It’s author Richard Louv’s term for the health benefits of time spent in the natural world, detailed in his book The Nature Principle.
While there’s nothing like planning and anticipating your next great nature expedition, it’s crucial not to wait till vacation-time to immerse yourself in nature, even if it’s your local city park.
A growing body of literature, from Louv’s work to Dr. Richard Jackson’s research as chair of Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA, is making the case for the benefits of spending regular time in contact with the natural world.
Time in nature has been documented to reduce stress, calm tension and counteract depression. Studies show that even a brief stroll through a forested park can reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure, and that hospital patients whose windows overlook leafy trees and green space recover faster.
That’s why Jackson, who heads the Designing Healthy Communities project , is a policy crusader for parks in our cities. Yet, as The Trust for Public Land notes, 1 in 5 American children do not have access to green space. Typically, these kids live in economically deprived neighborhoods, and are often more sedentary without safe places to play outdoors. Increasingly, children and adults of all social classes are suffering from what Louv calls “Nature Deficit Disorder.”
Because not everyone can afford a spacious, grassy backyard with trees, Jackson observes, it’s important to have accessible parks in our cities. Toward that end, it’s exciting to see The Trust for Public Land building parks and playgrounds in cities with “park deserts” like New York and Philadelphia.
If you are fortunate, as I am, to live in a place where parks are readily available – or in the case of my home in Boulder, Colorado, thousands of acres of natural open space as well – count your blessings. And make sure to take advantage of them!