I was out running today and bumped into my neighbor. We got to talking about the benefits of a week at the beach or in the woods or on a farm. She grew up spending time in nature and swears by its health benefits. She said she regrets that kids today learn from their parents to be scared of nature—of ticks, of jellyfish stings, of a broken arm. Our recent survey about kids connecting in nature highlighted this very fact: Kids find nature itself to be an obstacle to getting outside.
I too am scared of nature sometimes. I’m guilty of listening to the stories of one-in-a-million accidents and giving into irrational fears. Heck, my cousin has Lyme disease. What if my daughter, Kareena, got Lyme disease? Or what if the unthinkable happened—a drowning, a broken neck?
But then I realize: No one discusses the successes. Getting up the mountain or through the rapids is not news. But in truth, the risk of a freak accident is, by definition, miniscule, and the benefits of persevering are enormous. Being outside provides a sense of accomplishment, no matter what you’re doing—hiking, looking for bugs, kayaking. And it offers real biological benefits that far outweigh the risks.
Parents and grandparents have intuitively known about these benefits for years. Now, the medical community is getting behind them too.
Massachusetts General Hospital has just teamed up with the Appalachian Mountain Trail in Boston to prescribe nature as a way to improve wellness. And in Washington D.C., the new Park Rx initiative is designed to help people access nature. "National parks have always been loved for their symbolism and scenery, but we want to increase the awareness of their role in preventative medicine and therapy," said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.
So let me counter the freak-accident stories with a success story of my own. Kareena just came back from a week of kayaking and tubing in Bryson City, North Carolina. She was out there “wilding,” I would say. She came home with ticks, a few scrapes, satisfaction of fears overcome and a glorious smile. She came home joyful, mentally stronger and healthier.
Nature is our playground, and I am learning everyday how nature helps my daughter develop holistically. She gets mental and physical benefits from the outdoors that I know will contribute to her success in life.
The doctors just gave us a free prescription to get outside. In my family, nature seems to be having a positive influence with no side effects.
Contributed by: Sarita Bhargava
Sarita works in marketing for The Nature Conservancy. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and daughter.