By Heather Stapleton, Education Coordinator
Many of us, adults and children alike, don’t get enough time outdoors. Richard Louv has coined a new phrase, “nature deficit disorder.” Though this phrase is not a medical diagnosis, it does get at an important point.
For centuries, most of our lives were spent outdoors. Thousands of years ago, we hunted and gathered; we slept under the stars; we found our medicines in plants. Even not so long ago, we sat on porches; we attended neighborhood barbeques; we had gardens out back. We even did our laundry outdoors! We climbed trees, roamed the empty lot behind the house, and played until the street lights came on.
We evolved with nature.
This evolution is what Harvard professor E. O. Wilson calls “biophilia.” His hypothesis states that humans are innately attracted to nature: biologically, we are still hunters and gatherers, and there is something in us, which we do not fully understand, that needs occasional immersion in nature.
However, according to the most recent US Census, Americans spend more of their lives than ever — about eight-and-a-half hours a day — inside, either watching television, using computers, listening to the radio, or going to the movies.
How does all that time indoors influence the amount of time Americans spend outdoors? The census does not measure that. Time spent in nature is not yet considered important enough to measure. But if we spend that much time with tvs, computers, radios and big screens, “nature deficit disorder” must exist.
In ongoing studies, researchers have discovered tantalizing evidence.
In a 2004 study in the American Journal of Public Health, scientists found that children as young as five showed significant reduction in attention and behavioral problems when they engaged with nature. In fifty-four of fifty-six cases, outdoor activities in natural settings led to a striking reduction in ADHD symptoms.
Other researchers have found that engagement with nature buffers against life’s stresses –for children and adults alike.
A 2003 study reached similar conclusions. The lead researcher said that exposure to nature resulted in “profound differences in children's attention capacities” and that green spaces enable children to think more clearly and to cope with stress more effectively.
In Indian River County we have several unique areas where we can engage with nature --the ELC is just one of those places. But, how many of us actually take advantage of these opportunities? As parents, educators, and citizens we can help deliver the cure for nature deficit disorder.
What are you doing this weekend?