American Grove's message for January is #HealthyTreesHealthyLives. In search of knowledge, we dove head first into the research of Dr. Kathleen Wolf from the University of Washington. She writes, “The evidence grows! Plants do much more than beautify our built environments. They contribute to our health, well-being, and quality of life! While we may have intuitively known this for some time, recent scientific evidence has confirmed these ideas and expanded our understanding of nature’s benefits. People and plants are entwined by threads that reach back to our earliest experiences, as individuals and as a species.” With the help of Dr.Wolf, we are exploring the many aspects of human health that benefit from greenspaces.
“Encounters with nearby nature help alleviate mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind," she writes. "Within built environments, parks and green spaces are settings for cognitive respite, as they encourage social interaction and de-stressing through exercise or conversation, and provide calming settings. Having quality landscaping and vegetation in and around the places where people work and study is a good investment. Both visual access and being within green space helps to restore the mind’s ability to focus. This can improve job and school performance, and help alleviate mental stress and illness.”
After reading Linda McGurk’s article “Why Children Need True Learning,” we were curious about how Forest Kindergartens could positively affect the growth of future generations. Dr.Wolf helps us quantify the important mental and physical benefits nature plays in developing children: "Educational theory suggests that contact with nature facilitates children’s development of cognitive, emotional, and spiritual connections to social and biophysical environments around them. Ecological theory also suggests that contact with nature is important for children’s mental, emotional, and social health because imagination and creativity, cognitive and intellectual development, and social relationships are encouraged in outdoor activity, all of which improve the child’s mental health and function. Among older children, exposure to nature encourages exploration and building activities, which can improve problem-solving abilities, ability to respond to changing contexts, as well as participation in group decision-making. Younger children often use outdoor settings having plants, stones, and sticks as props for the imaginative play, which is key to social and cognitive development. One study of children’s play found that a cluster of shrubs was the most popular place to play on an elementary schoolyard because it could be transformed into many imaginary places: a house, spaceship, etc."
However, nature is advantageous for all ages. Patients struggling with long-term chronic illnesses can be prescribed nature's medicine. According to Dr. Wolf, "Studies have found that nature experiences can be of particular benefit to dementia patients. Exposure to gardens can improve quality of life and function of dementia patients by reducing negative behaviors up to 19%. Those patients who have access to gardens that are designed to positively stimulate the senses and promote positive memories and emotions are less likely to express negative reactions and fits of anger. After gardening activities, dementia and stroke patients exhibited improved mobility and dexterity, increased confidence, and improved social skills."
So after reading the immense research from Dr.Wolf, the facts are irrefutable. She says, "The brain, complex and vulnerable, is the only organ that undergoes substantial maturation after birth. This process is shaped in part by a response to stimuli in our surroundings (including both negative and positive conditions), and continues throughout our lives. Substantial research shows that natural scenes evoke positive emotions, facilitate cognitive functioning, and promote recovery from mental fatigue for people who are in good mental health and can also provide respite for those who experience short-term and chronic mental illness." So bundle up, and enjoy all nature has to offer!