I really like this quote from Timothy Beatley, Few elixirs have the power and punch to heal, restore, and rejuvenate the way that nature can. It is not surprising that, as a leading advocate for the “greening” of our cities, he sees exposure to nature as essential for optimal health and well-being.
He is not alone in his view. According to Jules Pretty and his colleagues at the University of Exeter, a healthy pathway through life takes in plenty of nature.
The scientific evidence makes clear that connecting with nature should be as much part of a healthy lifestyle as eating sensibly, getting enough exercise, reducing stress, having close personal relationships and avoiding environmental hazards. Edward O. Wilson (of biophilia fame)is so convinced of this that he says we require daily contact with nature if we are to be healthy and productive individuals.
The days of thinking that being healthy simply means not having an illness or injury are long gone. Today the accepted view of health is the one recommended by the World Health Organisation – complete physical, mental and social well-being and not just being free of disease. To be healthy in this broader sense is as much about our mental and emotional life – our moods, self-esteem, feelings of belonging, sense of identity and stress levels, for example – as it is about what is going on in our bodies.
So to be “really well” is to feel that our minds and bodies are enabling us to be the persons we want to be, doing the things we find meaningful and fulfilling. It is to be enjoying what Halbert Dunn called “high-level wellness” or “wellness” for short. Dunn adopted this term to emphasise that health is more than a here-and-now state; it is equally about living “healthily” and to our full potential.
Living “healthily” or in the “wellness way” involves all aspects of our lives – emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual and occupational as well as physical. It requires us to take personal responsibility for pursuing optimal well-being in all of these areas. This is quite a responsibility but discharging it is made easier because there are widely accepted guidelines to follow.
As I gathered material for Claim Your Wildness, I was amazed to discover just how many wellness guidelines are served by activities that connect us with nature. When I join a small group of friends on our monthly bushwalk, for example, I am applying several of the principles without having to think about it. Here are some that this simple activity covers:
- adopting strategies for avoiding and ameliorating stress
- developing mutually satisfying relationships with friends
- avoiding sensory overload and attention fatigue
- using our senses for pleasure
- seeking mental stimulation
I’ll explain in following posts why a walk and other activities in nature are able to serve our wellness needs so comprehensively.