I always knew I enjoyed nature, but I never gave much thought to how it affected my health or happiness. I've lived in New York City for nearly twenty years and am raising two kids here. Much about the cityscape is beautiful to me, but a fascinating read in The Atlantic about nature's restorative powers drove home the importance of getting outdoors and finding nature, even little city pockets of it, whenever I can.
I wasn't always a city girl. I grew up in a small town dubbed 'The Maple City' for its tree-lined streets. It was in a beautiful little valley and you were surrounded by rolling hills wherever you went in town. I've lived in a few different neighborhoods since moving to the city and our current neighborhood was chosen much for the visual appeal of the brownstones and towering London plane trees. I make it a point to get my son to the playground down the street as often as I can stand.
In his article, "How Nature Resets Our Minds and Bodies" for The Atlantic Adam Alter brings together several studies about the mind-body-nature connection: the quicker and less painful recovery of surgery patients with a hospital room view of trees instead of a brick wall, the buffer effect of natural elements in and around a home on the unhappiness and stress of children, the therapeutic and stress-reducing effects of "forest bathing" on Japanese patients.
My son bird watching in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.
Don't get me wrong - there are many wonderful things, visually and otherwise, about living in a city and many benefits to raising kids here, too. But you might have to try harder to get your daily (or weekly) dose of nature. Alter notes that it isn't enough to just get outside - natural landscapes, even if viewed from the inside, are beneficial. Natural views aren't visually demanding and instead soothe and rejuvenate.
So how can city dwellers maximize our exposure to nature? Here are a few thoughts:
Seek out your city's most natural environments. For me the closest is Prospect Park, Brooklyn but I'm reminded that it's been over a decade since I've been to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens, just a subway ride away.
Consider nature-based vacations. Typically, my husband and I have chosen to travel to...other cities. We love restaurants and museums and walking new city streets. Especially since we've had children, a slower-paced vacation in a more natural setting is sounding very appealing.
Weekend getaways. We always say we're going to "get away for the weekend" but we rarely do. We recently purchased our first (used) car which should make this easier even if we just go somewhere for the day (New Jersey, Long Island, the Hudson Valley are all a quick drive away). It can be harder with young kids to rally your energy for a train ride, but this is certainly an option for a weekend or an afternoon.
What about you and your family? Do you live in a city? How do you connect with nature?
Read more: "How Nature Resets Our Minds and Bodies" by Adam Alter The Atlantic. The article is an excerpt from Alter's book, Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave.
(Images: Carrie McBride)