Ep. 41: Florence Williams - Why (and How Much) Nature Makes Us Happier and Healthier - Author
Florence Williams is a journalist who writes about the connections between people, health and nature. In this podcast she tells us about the superpowers of nature. Her book The Nature Fix reveals that even five minutes in nature can start to make a difference. The optimal goal is to have 5 hours in nature a month (which is about two 30-40 minutes in nature per week). After 20 minutes in nature our blood pressure starts to drop, our respiration can calm our entire nervous system, we have an expanded perception of time, we move into alpha brain waves and we become less short tempered throughout the day.
Studies show that people with views of nature from their hospital bed need less pain medication and prisoners with nature on the walls of the gym have lower incidences of aggression. Studies also show that depression and rumination goes down on a 60 minute walk in nature but not in the city, which makes finding a park or something natural optimal.
Williams also teaches us about forest bathing, popularized by Shinrin-yoku. It talks about the benefits of opening yourself up to all of your senses when you are in nature. When you can turn off running through the to-do list and move into a sensory, mindful mode, your blood pressure drops, your mood gets boosted and your heart rate variability improves.
Nature is truly a superpower and we all deserve to have a park less than 10 minutes away.
Florence Williams is the author of The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative as well as Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History which won the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize the 2012 Audie Award and a notable book of 2012 by the New York Times.
More From Florence Williams
Official Website: www.florencewilliams.com
Mentioned in this Podcast
Outward Bound - www.outwardbound.org
Trust for Public Land - https://www.tpl.org/
[02:03] It just became apparent to me that there are all these sort of hidden connections between our planetary health and our own health that weren't necessarily being discussed
[03:14] Scientists were really able to take new tools into the field in order to measure what was happening to our brains and bodies in these different environments.
[03:33] Even five minutes in nature can start to make a difference. Even a view of trees or a lawn or just greenery outside our window can make a difference in things like hospital patients on how much medication they require. And then after 20 minutes in nature our blood pressure starts to drop our respiration can slow our nervous system.
[04:28] Oscar Wilde has this lovely definition where he says, “You know nature is really just a place where birds fly around uncooked.”
[04:50] I have really learned to find beauty in the city as a way to calm down and define beauty where I can find it because now I know so much of how it is helpful to us.
[05:21] Shinrin-yoku teaches us about forest bathing. This is the practice of really opening up all of your senses when you're outside. In forest therapy trails you can close your eyes hear the sounds of the forest and feel the breeze on your face. These are invitations to help engage all of your senses and that in turn is what's really linked to these wonderful benefits we see in our nervous systems. We have to kind of put aside our To Do list and all the things that are still churning through our brains when we sort of go for a quick walk in the city and do these invitations help pull us out of our thinking mode help our sensory brains turn on and that's kind of when the magic happens. That's that mindful state that's when we see that changes in blood pressure drop even after 15 or 20 minutes people's moods are reported to increase their heart rate variability really changes in a way that's kind of more beneficial for stress that to get those benefits.
[08:14] The science has shown is that when we hear birdsong -- and also by the way when we hear water sounds -- like a creek or a gentle wind sounds through the trees --- Those are the three sort of magic sounds that really help us feel centered and grounded and kind of slow us down a little bit.
[10:27] There have been brain studies looking at people's brains after 40 minute walks or after 90 minute walks and some of those subjects will be sent to walk in a park. Some will be sent to walk in a city. We know that certain parts of the brain associated with depression and rumination for example quiet down in nature they don't quiet down after a city walk.
[11:32] When we experience awe moment it's like “Oh yeah, we are more than just ourselves, there is more going on here than what I'm doing to advance my career.”
[11:50] Dr. David Strayer has done some studies showing that people improve their creativity 50 percent after being outside for a couple of days. He knew that he got his best ideas outside and so he started studying it.
[13:28] A lot of enlightened cities are really starting to acknowledge that it's important for our well-being to have more trees. For example, a number of cities in the United States are in these million tree campaigns including New York City. D.C. is planting tens of thousands of trees right now. There's actually a biophilic city movement in D.C. and in a lot of places where planners and designers are looking at things like how to improve storm water drainage through greenery through having sort of nicely landscaped swales and redirecting stormwater. We're seeing more rooftop gardens by enlightened employers.
[14:10] Google has these facilities all over the world that have break rooms filled with huge plants and even that even indoor plants are associated with some states of restoration and relaxation.
[15:13] Some people are looking into virtual reality. So for example there's a prison in Oregon where there are videos of nature sort of displayed on the walls in the gym. The inmates who exercise in those rooms have fewer incidences of aggression. They feel better than the inmates who are exercising in a blank room.
[17:11] I think it's been sort of well-established in studies that we tend to undervalue how nature will make us feel and we overvalue what watching Netflix or eating ice cream will do for us.
[19:39] We were facing this huge I mean really now two generations huge disconnection from nature. This has never happened before in the history of our species.
[19:53] I think a lot of parents are really anxious. I mean they know it's not great for their kids to be on their phone. All day long. To be watching television to be playing with the iPad from the age of you know 3 months old.
[20:17] And so that's one of the reasons I think it's so important to connect kids early because if you miss that opportunity then nature is going to feel more unfriendly and more unfamiliar. And yet if kids can actually learn to feel connected to nature it's a gift that will last them their entire lives.
[22:46] I think and it's that everyone has a right to live within a 10 minute walk of some green space.
[23:03] The adults in Finland sort of live like they’re at Waldorf pre-school all the time they go outside and they hold hands and they sing songs and they have picnics and they go berry picking.
[23:50] A minimum dose of five hours a month of time in nature. So if you get 10 hours a month that's better but five hours a month will actually prevent mild depression.
[25:00] “Let me do what matters” - Mary Oliver. And then the other part of that quote is that is “standing still, and learning to be astonished.”
Thank you for joining us on HealthGig. We loved having you with us. We hope you'll tune in again next week. In the meantime, be sure to like and subscribe to this podcast, and follow us on healthgigpod.com.
“People improve their creativity 50 percent after being outside for a couple of days.” – Florence Williams
“I think it's been sort of well-established in studies that we tend to undervalue how nature will make us feel and we overvalue what watching Netflix or eating ice cream will do for us.” – Florence Williams
“We were facing this huge I mean really now two generations huge disconnection from nature. This has never happened before in the history of our species.” – Florence Williams
“If kids can actually learn to feel connected to nature it's a gift that will last them their entire lives. ” – Florence Williams
“I think and it's that everyone has a right to live within a 10 minute walk of some green space.” Florence Williams
“Even five minutes in nature can start to make a difference. Even a view of trees or a lawn or just greenery outside our window can make a difference.” Florence Williams
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