Think about the last time you stared up at the clouds, listened to the birds, or planted flowers. Chances are that the experience brought some peace and calmness to the moment, and brought a "sense of oneness" with the world around you. Chances are that your response is shared by the majority of us.
According to the American Public Health Association, human beings of all ages are pre-programmed to find comfort in natural settings such as gardens, parks, and natural landscapes. Children value natural environments as a place to explore. Teenagers appreciate parks as a place to hang out with friends. Employees report diminished stress and fewer health complaints in settings that include nature scenes and plants. Elders who spend times in gardens have a reduced risk of dementia.
For many of you it's no surprise that nature influences our physical, emotional, and social well-being. Not only does spending time in natural environments increase physical activity, it also decreases pain, illness, AND mortality. Stress and anxiety are reduced. Researchers have also found evidence of increased attention span in children with ADHD (Dunckley) and increased life engagement in people with dementia (Jarrot et al). Finally, time spent in "green space" has been shown to increase empathy for others and bonding between community members.
Spring is a perfect time to take advantage of natural habitats to improve your well-being... whether in your personal "backyard" or the expanded "backyard" of your local and county park systems. Either way, you're bound to find at least one of the two environments that humans prefer: the small and comfortable where we feel safe, and savannas, grassy areas with few trees (ASLA). Go ahead... get out of the house. There's a good chance that your body, your brain, and even your neighbors will all thank you.
For links to research on the multiple ways that nature can improve well-being, visit the Health Benefits of Nature website sponsored by the American Society of Landscape Architects.
For a list of Lake County Forest Preserves, click here.
Remember that nature is your great restorer.
- Calvin Coolidge
Like love, art, and comfy jeans, life often gets better with age. We're wiser, better at making good decisions. We're also happier and more resilient to everyday challenges.
May is Older Americans Month, first recognized in 1963 as a time to acknowledge the contributions of older Americans. This year's theme is Age Out Loud... let all the world know that getting older CAN be the best time of your life! Think about people who did some of their best work after 60...
Strategies for enhancing YOUR voice...
Researchers at Northwestern and at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard have recently begun focusing on a group of older adults called "superagers." Generally, superagers are defined as adults in their 70s and 80s with brain performance and structure similar to adults in their 50s or 60s.
You may know some superagers. If you're old enough, you may even be one. Superagers are engaged in life and highly interested in learning. They're "sharp as a tack," full of energy, and maintain a positive outlook (Associated Press).
What researchers discovered when they studied the brain images of superagers is that the "gray matter" of their brains, the cerebral cortex, is thicker and contains fewer plaques than the brains of the majority of their peers. This additional "gray matter" enhances their ability to perform complex cognitive functions related to memory, abstraction, language, judgment, creativity, judgment, emotion, and attention (Swenson).
How do people become superagers? Dr. Kornel, a neurologist at Weill Cornell Medical College, says that genetics makes a difference; some people are born "gifted." He does not downplay, however, the effects of environment. Physical and mental exercise, healthy diets, and social activity are also important.
Another researcher, from the the Massachusetts General/Harvard study, Dr. Barrett, suggests that the secret to being a superager is the willingness to push oneself to perform, mentally and physically. Nancy, a superager recently interviewed for the Today Show, exemplifies this concept. Nancy is a 74-year-old whose brain scan compares to that of a 20-year-old. Nancy credits her brain's youthfulness to daily exercise and constant exposure to new challenges. In the past year, for example, she has learned to play chess, pool, and the piano.
So what's your challenge for the day? Even if you think you're not destined to be a "superager," there's no telling what you can accomplish by pushing yourself to reach its full potential. Go for it!