Nature has miraculous influences over human health. We are, after all, interconnected with our resources. Without clean water, air and exposure to sunlight, we would wither away. Just as climate change causes a host of psychological impacts, from stress to depression and increases in violence, nature can also impart benefits to the human body and psyche. Now, researchers are learning more about the upsides of spending time outdoors. Evidently, these benefits are huge. As Environmental Health Perspectives reports below, "Several studies suggest that spending time outdoors can protect against myopia (nearsightedness). Still other research indicates that neighborhood green space may help mitigate income-related health disparities." And the positive health affects don't end there. "For kids in particular, being in or near green spaces has been found to be associated with better test scores, improved self-discipline and cognition, and reduced behavioral problems and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder." Clearly, getting outside is critical. Climate for Health leaders are working to ensure that our environment is well maintained so that we can prosper from our resources as nature has intended.
Environmental Health Perspectives I Volume 123 | Issue 10 | October 2015
By Nate Seltenrich
For children today, time spent outdoors is becoming more of a luxury—or in some cases, a chore—than a staple. In recent years “nature deficit disorder” among kids has evolved from a turn of phrase to a cultural indictment. Smartphones and other screens are increasingly vying for kids’ attention, but blame lies elsewhere, too: just as recess is being reduced or phased out in many schools, children’s activities are being increasingly structured and scheduled, and concerns over neighborhood crime and safety can impede their ability to play freely outdoors. A 2013 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly three-quarters of high-school students had less than one hour of physical activity per day, while childhood obesity rates are trending steadily upward.
Almost at the same time, researchers have dramatically expanded their understanding of the positive link between health and parks of all sorts—from the most majestic national parks to regional community parks and urban “pocket parks” with just a swing set or a few benches. They have also begun to disentangle some of the many pathways through which these benefits appear to occur. That knowledge is giving rise to a nationwide movement to integrate park visits into disease treatment and prevention through “park prescription” programs.
In some cases, the programs have received support from the Healthy Parks Healthy People initiative of the National Park Service (NPS), launched as a pilot in 2011 and set to expand significantly in 2016 and beyond. The Healthy Parks Healthy People program aims to improve health through regular use and enjoyment of parks and public lands nationwide, says Sara Newman, director of the NPS Office of Public Health. The NPS is also participating in the White House’s Every Kid in a Park initiative, launched in September 2015. This program provides fourth-graders and their families free admission to national parks and other federal lands and waters for a full year, and transportation support to schools that need it.
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