Outdoor Devil

How much nature do you need?
by Erika Zambello -- April 7th, 2017

camping, fishing, pisgah, forest, north carolina Photo by Erika Zambello

In health class, we often learned about food pyramids. Whole grains are on the bottom, because we need 5-7 servings per day. At the next level, we have fruits and veggies (two servings a day each), then meats and proteins (2-3 servings), followed by fats, sugars, and salts, which should be consumed rarely. In a new book entitled The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, Florence Williams prescribes a similar regimen of nature excursions to make us our best selves.

After years of study she concludes: “If there’s one major theme of this book, it’s that the benefits of nature work along a dose curve.” The bigger the dose, the better off you are. At the bottom of the pyramid are daily interactions with greenspace nearby, from trees along streets, private gardens, and even house plants. At the next level comes “weekly outings to parks and waterways, places where the sounds and hassles of the city recede, places we should aim to imbibe at least an hour or so a week.” At the third level comes a weekend away each month to immerse ourselves in the natural world. Finally, “[a]t the very pinnacle are the rare but essential doses of wilderness….[which] we need yearly or biyearly, in intense multiday bursts.”

Why? Her description is beautiful: “these trips can rearrange our very core, catalyzing our hopes and dreams, filling us with awe and human connection and offering a reassurance of our place in the universe.”

I recommend the entire book, but her pyramid-conclusion alone is worth thinking over. As Nic School students, alumni, and professors, we are more likely than many others to experience more time in the natural world. And yet, how many of us meet these loose guidelines on how much outdoor time we seek? I thought of my own life: a few walks in a 1.5 mile loop around my neighborhood each week (which is admittedly full of trees), at least one weekend of the month devoted to exploring Florida state parks (but usually without camping), and perhaps one annual, multi-day trip in which I truly immerse myself in the wilderness, without a cell phone, without a schedule, just me, my friends/family, and the outdoors.

Unfortunately, I am nowhere close to meeting the goals Williams suggests, which in turn means I am missing out on the creative and health benefits of regular nature exposure. Moreover, I love being outside, and I’m sure it would make me a happier, more relaxed person. She herself says she has changed her schedule since writing the book, and I am going to make a concerted effort to change mine!

For more information on the book, click here.

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