Fire Away: Seeing the forest for the skyscrapers

Thursday, May 19, 2011

  • How a walk in the park can make all the difference

    How a walk in the park can make all the difference

Written by Stephanie Rennie

        Many of us overlook the amount of time we spend indoors hunched over a computer in a physically, and sometimes mentally, idle state. Despite the fact that we are undoubtedly more relaxed and happier after spending time outdoors, we seem to be consistently confined indoors.  This leads to the question that many researchers are now posing: is life in the concrete jungle affecting our health?

        It is evident that people have generally lost touch with nature. Both youth and adults are more familiar with brand names than tree species and often find greater attraction to the indoors than the outdoors. All of the hours spent inside at a desk or at a computer under the fluorescent lights are impacting our well-being.

        Roberta Walker recently released a documentary entitled Urban by Nature that influenced my recent thoughts on city life affecting our health. While speaking with researchers and neuroscientists, Walker identifies the scientific impact that nature has on our brain and our general state of mind.

        Nature provides us with more than just a calming hue of relaxing colour shades; it mathematically and scientifically alleviates our stress levels and promotes greater levels of intellectual attention and comprehension. Researchers are exploring the geometry behind this current issue by insinuating that fractals found in nature, such as tree leaves and snowflakes, fascinate and stimulate the brain.

          Even in the recent change of season, it is apparent that people are generally becoming more energetic as the snow melts from both the ground and our minds and people venture outdoors once again. An average winter semester at the University of Guelph reflects the changing moods aligned with changing seasons. The campus immediately alters from a scene of stress and isolation to flying frisbees and picnics on Johnston Green.

               One study investigated the moods of two groups that spent the day on opposite sides of the spectrum. The first group strolled in an arboretum, while the second group walked down the busy streets of Michigan. Upon return, the first group was in a substantially better mental state than the second group, indicating that we need interaction with nature to calm our stress levels. 

At the University of Guelph, we are most fortunate to have acres of magnificent old-growth forests in our backyard. Nothing releases the anxieties of the workplace or exams quite like a jaunt down the naturally beautiful pathways.
        In a world where urban life is nearly inescapable, we must combat the health issues associated with permanent city dwelling. The smallest measures make a difference. Even relocating a desk to overlook a window with a view of trees can improve the mind. Cities are able to ensure that residents receive the various health benefits of nature by designating ample space for parks. 

        A disconnect between nature and people pose serious concerns for the health of both parties. With the issue of climate change looming over us, it is imperative that people begin to recognize the vital role of nature and current threats to its stability. By spending greater amounts of time surrounded within the indescribable solitudes of nature, a greater understanding and respect for the environment is achieved. Such interaction results in increased focus and empathy regarding environmental issues. Additionally, one is able to benefit mentally and physically from the abundant advantages of nature.
         As we slowly become indoor cats, we have to acknowledge the tiger within us that enjoys to prowl in the jungle.

 Stephanie Rennie is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Fire Away publishes every other Thursday in The Cannon and in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question

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