Editor’s note: Clinical depression is an illness that requires treatment by health care professionals. This article is not meant to suggest that treatment or medication is not required.
If you spend much time in nature you will not have a hard time believing the statement our Director of State Parks, Joe Elton, likes to say:Virginia State Parks are a tonic for the mind, body and spirit.
More and more science is coming out with studies that suggest that spending time outdoors is the remedy to a lot of society’s ills.
We have overweight children and adults that benefit from a healthy lifestyle that includes outdoor activities. There is anecdotal evidence that free play and nature both go a long way to improving attention deficit disorder in children.
Is it the fresh air? the beauty and peace of nature? the exercise?
One study suggests it’s DIRT. Yep, you read that right DIRT. In “Is Dirt the New Prozac,”Dr. Larry Dossey talks about a study by Dr. Chris Lowry and his colleagues at the University of Bristol and University College London that indicate that patients exposed to an “inoffensive microbe called Mycobacterium vaccae, found in soil … [resulted in] increases in their quality of life, including a brighter mood.”
The conclusion of his article addresses what I’m talking about:
“Nature deficiency disorder” has been proposed as a term for the problems we create when we build a wall between the natural world and ourselves. I am highly susceptible to this malady. When I spend too much time indoors, I become increasingly moody and morose. There’s only one cure: take a hike, go camping, or root around in my veggie garden. These activities are more than a hobby; they have become an essential part of my life and an important element in my personal health plan.
What about kids? Not so long ago, play and getting dirty were pretty much the same thing — frolicking in a sand box, making mud pies, romping in parks. Now many parents are horrified by dirty play. Keeping kids spotless and unsoiled, however, may be setting them up for trouble later on, because without exposure to nature’s medley of microbes our kids can grow up with confused, weak immune systems. Can we rethink the prohibition on dirty play for the sake of our children’s health?
Antidepressant medication can sometimes be a treatment of choice. It can work wonders, and in some instances can be life-saving. But if your doctor advises you to get dirty instead of taking a pill to perk up your mood, don’t look at her strangely. Pride yourself on having a physician who is on the cutting edge.
Another article appearing in the [London] Times, “Feeling Down?Take a Dose of Nature’s Prozac” commented:
A report called Eco-therapy, which was conducted last year by Mind and experts from the department of biological sciences at the University of Essex, indicated that physical activity outdoors offers more of a mental boost than gym workouts. “We found there were significant benefits to being outside as opposed to an enclosed environment,” Farmer says. “Ninety-four per cent of people with depression said that Nature and exercise is most important in improving how they feel.” Kite flying, for instance, sent moods soaring with 71 per cent of subjects in the Eco-therapy study experiencing significant improvements in their depression.
In May I wrote an article that talked about new research that provides empirical evidence that getting out in nature for as little as five minutes can have a significant impact on mood, mental health and self-esteem.
So my prescription for you today – visit a Virginia State Park – it’s good for what ails you!