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Archive for the ‘Wellness’ Category

It’s been a while since my last post. Thank you, if you have noticed. The gap does not indicate any waning of my enthusiasm for the cause of connecting people to nature. If anything my enthusiasm is stronger.

I have been distracted from my blog by the task of revising Claim Your Wildness with a view to making it available as a paperback as well as an e-book. The revised edition will be in two parts, the first covering the “Why” of connecting with nature, and the second, the “How”. The “Why” part will comprise most of book’s existing chapters plus a chapter on awe and wonder. The “How” part will be a major addition to the book and will be a comprehensive source of practical guidelines for connecting with nature in the home, neighbourhood and beyond.  It will also have a “how-to” chapter on connecting children with nature and one on using nature as a resource for health and wellness.

Speaking of nature and health, a landmark paper has just been published on that topic. The paper is based on extensive work done by Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett and Andy Jones both from the University of East Anglia Disappointingly, the paper has had little media coverage even though what it has to say is of enormous public policy as well as personal significance.

The paper does not report the findings of a new investigation but the results of a synthesis of 143 studies into the effects of access to green space on physical health. The forms of green space represented in the review cover undeveloped land with natural vegetation as well as urban parks and vegetated streets. The studies are from 20 countries including the UK, the USA, Spain, France, Germany, Australia and Japan. The number of subjects involved in the individual studies varied but in some cases ran into the millions.

The strength of research reviews is that their results are obtained by pooling and analysing the actual data or “numbers” (rather than the stated findings) from separate studies. Some sophisticated statistical techniques are involved on top of the rigorous procedures that have to be followed to ensure that the pool of studies is as complete as possible and only scientifically sound studies are included. In some ways, a well conducted review is as good as doing a single massive study. This means that the results of reviews are more trustworthy than those from individual studies.

For their review, Bennett and Jones, compared the health markers (e.g., blood pressure)  and conditions (e.g., diabetes II) of two categories of people, those with little access to green spaces and those with the highest amount of exposure.

They found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration. People living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress.

Back in the 19th century Henry David Thoreau wrote about the tonic of wildness to convey his belief in the health benefits of exposure to nature. More recently, the terms, “vitamin G” (for greenspace) and “vitamin N” (for nature) have been coined for the same purpose.

The findings of the Bennett and Jones review confirm that such terms are scientifically valid as well as “catchy”. We do well (literally) to see exposure to nature as an ingredient of a healthy lifestyle just as essential as being physically active, following dietary guidelines and being socially engaged. We also need to send the message to politicians, planning bureaucrats and developers that investment in greenspace is investment in public health no less important than the spending on “public illness” (much of which is in our own hands to prevent).

 

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Among the presents Zoe (my great granddaughter) received for her second birthday was a photobook about her recent trip to Sydney. The book was enclosed in 20 X 15 cm red vinyl covers, the front one containing a window showing the title of the book.

But when Zoe removed the wrapping from her present, the first thing she saw was the unmarked back cover. Her immediate response was one of delight. “Ipad”, she announced.

She was obviously disappointed when she realised that the “ipad” was in fact a book (although some pleasure was restored when she saw that the book was all about her).

Barely two years of age, Zoe made clear that she is already an enthusiastic member of the electronic age.

This was the second of two incidents that “inspired” this post. The first was my viewing of a short film that Josh Gosh (author of The jaguar and its allies blog) brought to my attention. Please take a moment to view  this heart-warming, informative and provocative film before reading further.

The two incidents came together in my mind as I reflected on the reality that, for children in our society, the electronic media are an inescapable and, increasingly, indispensable component of their lives. An associated reality is that the virtual and cyber worlds accessed by electronic media are luring children away from the outdoor play and nature experiences that are essential for the healthy development of their bodies and minds. Both realities, the second one especially, give reasons for concern – a particularly grave one being that our children are at risk of developing videophilia (a love of virtual reality) at the expense of biophilia (the love of natural reality).

With awareness of this risk surfacing (yet again) in my mind, I recalled the film and found myself pondering the thought that perhaps videophilia could be made an ally of biophilia – at least to some degree. It is now established scientifically that the human brain responds to pictorial and electronic images of nature much as it does to real-life nature experiences. So, why not use computers, ipads, smart phones and the like to bring nature to the minds of children in a way that nurtures biophilia?

With Zoe on hand, I decided to put this idea to a test of sorts. I sat her in front of my computer and played the film.  img_1521

She watched all six minutes of it intently, keeping her eyes on the screen even when her grandmother was commenting on some of the content.

“Did you enjoy the film?” I asked, to which she replied with her version of “Yes”.

But the real indication of the impact of the film on her came some minutes later.

Her aunty Bek arrived for a visit and immediately Zoe insisted she come to the computer and watch the film with her. This time, Zoe was the commentator, smiling and gesturing to convey her pleasure.img_1539

I am sufficiently encouraged by Zoe’s response to begin exploring the Internet for other nature material for her to watch – to supplement, I stress, not replace real nature activities.

I know that this is not an original thing to be doing. And in a later post, I will write about a father who has managed to confine most of his children’s on-line viewing to You Tube compilations he has made of videos and films about animals and nature generally.

 

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“Security guards to target unruly parents at junior league games”. This is the frontGBR:  FA Respect Pr Shoot - Ray Winstone 23/02/2009 page story of a recent edition of Sydney’s Sun-Herald.

Evidently the verbal and physical aggression of parents watching their kids play rugby league in the Penrith district west of Sydney has become a safety issue and is threatening to discourage participation in the “game”.

In applauding the initiative, Brad Fittler, a former Australian league team captain, observed that some parents live their lives through their children. Of his own career as a junior player he said, “I have clearer memories as a 10 year-old player than I do from representing Australia…mainly bad ones…getting chased by parents”.

And the problem is not confined to rugby league. Last year, Canberra football administrators took the extraordinary step of locking the crowd out of an under-12s soccer game after a previous meeting between the sides had resulted in a violent pitch battle involving parents.

The decision of the management of the Penrith District Junior Rugby League to make matches non-competitive for junior age groups provides a real clue as to where the real problem lies.

Thank goodness there are Penrith league enthusiasts who have tumbled to the fact that whatever good there is in playing the sport can be undermined by its intrinsic competitiveness.

But let’s face it – this is true of all competitive sport. Participation in sporting contests can be beneficial. It can be fun and can encourage healthy physical activity. Under the right conditions (those that genuinely subordinate winning to simply taking part), sport can also build self-esteem, resilience, confidence and social skills. But very often the conditions are not “right” and competition turns out to be psychologically and socially detrimental.

In his polemical book, No Contest, Alfie Kohn draws on hundreds of studies to make a powerful case against competition in all areas of life. He argues that our struggle to defeat each other — at work, at school, at play, and at home — turns all of us into losers.angry-sports-parent-2

There is no such thing as “healthy competition”, he says, because competition always means that one person can succeed only if others fail. The consequences of this include:

  • feelings of self-worth become dependent on external evaluation – personal value is defined in terms of wins and losses;
  • children learn that it isn’t enough to be good or to do one’s best – they must triumph over others;
  • others are seen as obstacles to success – a sure recipe for hostility;
  • winners are envied, losers are looked down on;
  • the development of trust, co-operation, empathy and generosity is undermined;
  • learning is impeded because of heightened anxiety, reduced concentration, restricted learning from others and a preoccupation with extrinsic (e.g., rewards) rather than intrinsic (e.g., interest and satisfaction) outcomes

Kohn is not suggesting that children shouldn’t learn discipline and tenacity, that they shouldn’t be encouraged to succeed or even be exposed to failure. But none of these requires winning and losing — that is, having to beat other children and worry about being beaten. When classrooms and playing fields are based on cooperation rather than competition, children feel better about themselves. They work with others instead of against them, and their self-esteem doesn’t depend on winning a spelling bee or a game of rugby league. Even if Kohn may be overstating the case, there is a great deal in what he says.

One of the great advantages of nature play over sport – which increasingly passes for play in our society – is that it calls for co-operation rather than competition. It is the form of play that Fred O Donaldson calls “original play” – “original” because it is displayed by all species as a powerful means of communicating love, trust and belonging.

Even at its best, sport is competitive and divisive, leading almost inevitably to tribal behaviour – them and us, home team and opposition, winners and losers. Original play is completely different. It is the opposite of “them and us”. Original play involves just “us” – us together, not competing but co-operating, us sharing equally in the rewards of an experience and us accepting one another unconditionally and not for what we can contribute to winning.

Play in nature – whether it is the free play of children or the more structured nature activities that adults prefer – is very largely original play. No competition is involved in collecting firewood with your mates or looking for an easy route through a cliff line or cooling your feet in a creek. The people with you are simply companions in an enterprise that requires nothing more than a willingness and an ability to join in – for the sake of the activity itself.

DSC00581bu Negotiating the pool at the end of the Chasm

I accept that original play will never replace competitive sport in our society and I am not saying that it should (after all I am a competitive rower). But what I would like to see is a great deal more value being given to, and much more time being spent in, nature play. Anything that counters the divisive forces that permeate our culture has to be taken seriously – and sharing nature experiences with others is certainly one of those things.

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After his release from an Egyptian prison, Australian journalist Peter Greste wasPeter Greste asked what he would most like to do. His answer was:

Watching a few sunsets. I haven’t seen one of those at all for a very long time, watching the stars, feeling the sand under my toes — the little things.

He went on to say:

You realise it is those little beautiful moments of life that are really precious, and spending time with my family of course.

That’s what’s important, not the big issues.

It is interesting and significant that the “little things” Peter mentions are all centred on nature. Being deprived of them reminded him of how precious and important such little things are.

I am grateful for his reminder because it is easy to forget that simple encounters with the natural world are essential for mental and spiritual wellbeing. They are literally “mind changers” – lifting our mood, calming and refreshing us, making us more sociable and providing us with restoring moments of stillness.

Prompted by Peter’s remarks, I have compiled a list of ways of having these encounters at home or relatively easily in other places. Most of the list come from an excellent blog, Be a fun mum. The blog’s author is “Kelly”, herself a mum with four children. I was greatly impressed by what Kelly had to say about herself and about the purpose and aim of her blog. Her site is well worth visiting especially if you are a parent.

Although the list of activities Kelly has drawn up is intended for parents and children, many of her suggestions are suitable for people of all ages. These are the ones I have chosen along with a few of my own.

Why not try some today, remembering to focus as completely on the experience as you can. You may find that breathing slowly and deeply helps you to immerse yourself in some of the more passive activities – watching a sunset, listening to birds and lying on grass, for example.

 

1. Go outside and feel the sun on your face for 1 minute.Clouds 2

2. Look at the clouds.

3. Watch where the wind moves for 2 minutes.

4. Walk along a beach at dusk.

5. Watch a sunset.

6. Look at the stars.

7. Look at the full moon.

 

IMG_1426 cropped8.Watch the birds in nearby trees.

9. Count the birds (and perhaps try to identify them).

10. Listen to bird songs and calls.

11. Look for a bird’s nest in spring.

12. Listen to a CD of bird calls.

 

 

IMG_114613. Drop pebbles into still water and watch the ripples.

14. Listen to natural running water for 5 minutes.

15. Notice the reflection of the sun on water.

16. Skim a rock on water.

17. Paddle in a shallow stream.

18. Visit a waterfall.

19. Notice how the raindrops look on a flower, leaf or go outside in the early morning and look at dew on grass.

 

20. Look for butterflies.

21. Watch how a beetle moves.

Watching fish in garden pond22. Watch ants carry food to their nest.

23. Watch goldfish in an indoor aquarium or garden pond.

24. Watch skinks and/or other lizards in your garden.

25. Study the webs of orb spiders.

26. Smell flowers.

 

27. Crumple leaves (of aromatic plants like eucalypts and native mint bushes) and smell them.

28. Feel the bark of different trees.

 

29. Take photographs of nature and make them into a photo book.

30. Climb a tree (onto the lower branches will do).

31. Have a meal in your garden.

32. Lie on grass for a short time.View up an angophora

33. Walk on grass barefoot.

34. Sit under a big tree and look up into the branches.

35. Read a book outside.

36. Climb on rocks.

37. Go for a short walk to look at neighbourhood gardens or to a nearby park.

 

38. Look at greenery outside the window for 5 minutes.

39. Arrange flowers inside your home.

40. Go for a drive and look at the scenery.

41. Borrow books about nature and wildlife from your local library.

42. Go for a “green” walk in the rain.

43. Cook on an open fire.

44. Go for a family torchlight walk in a garden or park.

 

Something else you might find interesting to do is to think about the answer you would give to the “thing you would most like to do” question, if you  found yourself in Peter Greste’s situation.

My own list would include: listening to bird calls at dawn, looking at my fernery in dappled sunlight and looking at the photos of my bushwalking and trekking trips.

You are more than welcome to share your list as a comment.

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My first great grandchild, Zoe Margaret, arrived three weeks ago.Sept 23

Her arrival prompted me to reflect on the world that will be hers – not so much about the world in general but more about the part I hope the nature might play in her life and, indeed, in the lives of those around her.

My dream is that hers will be a world where

 

  • the hearts and minds of everyone are fully open and responsive to nature and everyone feels “at one” with the natural worldunity with nature

 

 

  • everyone, regardless of where they live, has easy access to nature

Sitting in a park 2

 

 

 

 

  • everyone involved in creating environments where people live, work and play has got the message that rich contact with nature is essential for human health and well-being

bio-porch jpgurban sprawl with greenery

 

 

 

 

  • all children play regularly and freely in nature and their minds and bodies are constantly being nurtured through “nature play”

Object play

  • a primary goal of school education is to immerse every child in nature and to foster in them a passion for the study and protection of the natural world

kid studying nature

  • nature’s power to comfort, heal, restore and rehabilitate is being fully utilized in health care

 

nature in hospitals

nature in hospitals 2

 

 

 

 

and in the amelioration of social disadvantage and dysfunction

 

Outdoor therapy for teens

  • nature continues to be a rich source of inspiration for writers, artists and composers

art inspired by anture 2_artist_img_5159

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • people everywhere are committed to sustainable living, the conservation of nature and the protection of the planet

planet-earth-from-the-moon-1886-hd-wallpapers

In short, I want a world where Zoe can claim her wildness and benefit from it to the fullest possible extent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I have just come across a commentary in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia entitled,FMS cartoon “Australian children lack the basic movement skills to be active and healthy”.

This is an alarming message to say the least, all the more so because it is based on reliable evidence.

The authors of the commentary are all health professionals, mainly academics, writing on behalf of the Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Stream of the Australasian Child and Adolescent Obesity Research Network (ACAORN).

The basic (or fundamental) movement skills (FMS) they are talking about are those required for activities like running, jumping, throwing, kicking, balancing and twisting. These skills provide the foundation for a physically active lifestyle.

Children who are proficient at FMS are more likely to be physically active and have adequate cardiovascular fitness and are less likely to be overweight or obese compared with children who are not proficient.

The best time to develop proficiency in FMS is during early childhood and primary school. It is not just a matter of simply being able to perform the skills at some basic level. Proficiency refers to both the outcome and the quality of performance – to running efficiently as well as running fast, for example. Both aspects of proficiency – the outcome and the “how” – can now be now assessed scientifically.Object control skills assessment

Assessments of the FMS of Australian children and adolescents paint a very worrying picture. For example,

  • approximately two-thirds of year 6 children in NSW are not proficient at loco-motor skills such as running, jumping and hopping;
  • two-thirds of girls and one-quarter of boys have low proficiency in object control skills like throwing and kicking.

Findings like these are telling us that many Australian kids do indeed “lack the basic movement skills to be active and healthy”.

The ideal way to acquire these skills is though unstructured play in settings where there is plenty of space, scope for vigorous games and suitable objects to play on, in and with. Nature play fills the bill very nicely.

Chasings a Who needs playground eqiupmentLockie and Henry Another caving shot

 

 

Deteriorating child and adolescent health is a major problem facing the Australian community. The facts speak for themselves:

  • 85% of Australian adolescents do not meet the National Physical Activity Recommendations of at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day;
  • one-quarter are overweight or obese; and
  • one-third have inadequate cardiorespiratory fitness.

As the authors of the commentary say,

Urgent action is needed to ensure all Australian children are provided with the opportunity to develop competence and confidence in FMS that will help them be active, fit and of a healthy weight.

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Comes the new year – comes the resolutions. If increasing your level of physical activity is a resolution you have made (whether it is one for the new year or not), good on you.

You are probably as aware as I am that having sufficient regular exercise is essential for physical health and is a major contributor to mental well-being as well. We hear this message constantly from health professionals directly and through the media. Although it is a message most of us have heard, it is one many of us have difficulty doing something about.

I wish that there was a single, simple answer to the problem – but there isn’t. People find it hard to be physically active for all sorts of reasons, valid and otherwise. A major hurdle for many people is the motivational one – finding the desire to be physically active on a regular basis.

One tried and true way of managing this hurdle is to find ways of being active that are intrinsically attractive and rewarding. If exercising gives us pleasure and satisfaction, we are much more likely to make it an integral part of our lifestyle. Gardeners, for example, get plenty of healthy exercise doing the activities that having a colourful or productive garden requires. Research has shown, in fact, that compared with non-gardeners, gardeners have greater life satisfaction as well as higher physical activity levels and better health.green exercise 4

Gardening is a form of activity referred to as “green exercise”. This term was coined by Jules Pretty and his team at the University of Essex where they work in a research centre dedicated to the study of green exercise in its many forms.

Any recreational activity undertaken in the presence of nature qualifies as green exercise. The “nature” can be bushland, forest, the seaside, parks as well as home gardens. Even working out in a gym while looking at nature posters or photographs confers some of the benefits of green exercise.

The Essex team have found that green exercise delivers benefits beyond those of physical activity alone. It is consistently reported to be more enjoyable, interesting and easier!!. It lifts mood, reduces tension and promotes a sense of vitality. Another consistent finding is that green exercise improves self- esteem. When shared with others, green exercise promotes friendship, community cohesion, social skills and the formation of support networks. Not surprisingly, there is evidence that green exercise substantially reduces the risk of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Green exercise has a bit going for it, hasn’t it?

If you would like to “green” your physical activity, here are some guidelines (all drawn from research) you might like to consider:

  • Investigate your neighbourhood and local area for green spaces suitable for the activity you have in mind. You could start with street maps and then do some exploring by car, bicycle or on foot. Consult your local council for information about parks and gardens and, while you are at it, for information about  community green activities already underway in your area. If you find a place close (within 600 metres) to home so much the better, but don’t write off places further afield. You can consider visiting these weekly or monthly to add some “green” spice to your daily exercise routine.
  • Find some “buddies” – partner, neighbours, relatives, parents you met at your kids’ school or sport, etc. Keep the group informal. green exercise 3And there is always the pet dog, of course. Socialising through green exercise is beneficial in itself and is a big factor maintaining motivation and commitment.
  • Adopt a regular, set program preferably with a variety of activities and settings. Speaking of settings, the ones that work best, it seems, are well maintained, have good tracks and are safe. green exercise 2Build achievement opportunities into your program, e.g., realistic distance or time targets, and/or community service opportunities in the form of conservation projects, for example.
  • Follow an “awareness plan” – that is, a plan that helps you connect with the natural environment. Include in your plan simple ways of tuning into nature with all of your senses. Try looking at natural settings through different eyes, those or an artist, photographer or conservationist, for example.
  • Approach green activities “playfully”. Avoid thinking of them in terms of “oughts” and “shoulds”. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

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