- Steve Dorfman Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Remember as a child how, when you got on your mom’s last nerve, she would tell you to “go outside and play”?
Well, it turns out she was doing more than just angling for a little peace and quiet.
She likely understood instinctively what researchers — and a growing number of doctors — have been espousing: being outdoors and developing a relationship with nature does a mind and body good.
In fact, this approach to maximizing mental and physical well-being is the basis for the growing field of ecotherapy.
And, as NBC News reported last month, more than 50 physicians across 11 states have joined the nonprofit organization Park RX because they believe so strongly in the health benefits of communing with nature.
For instance, rather than immediately turning to pharmaceutical antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication, most of these doctors have written actual prescriptions for their patients to visit local parks or green spaces for a certain amount of time every day.
Many of today’s ecotherapy advocates consider author Richard Louv the modern-day godfather of the movement. Louv’s 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods” highlighted what he termed “nature-deficit disorder” in the youth of America.
Backed by copious research, Louv argued the new millennium’s digitally connected world had disconnected children from the “direct exposure to nature [that] is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.”
He followed that up with 2012’s “The Nature Principle” which contended that — you guessed it — we’re all vulnerable to the negative effects of nature-deficit disorder unless we take conscious steps to counteract it.
Echoing Louv is psychologist Steve Taylor, who wrote in Psychology Today: “It’s not surprising that nature has a therapeutic effect when you consider that the human race — and all our evolutionary forebears — have been closely bonded with it for all our existence. It’s only in recent times that many of us have been confined to man-made environments.”
Taylor posits that simply being in nature has a calming effect because “our minds process a lot less information than normal, and they don’t wear themselves out by concentrating.”
Among the components of nature that ecotherapy proponents believe produce calming and uplifting effects are:
Even in medical settings, nature has been shown to possess healing benefits. A famous study from a Pennsylvania hospital published in 1984 suggested that, all other factors being equal, surgical patients whose rooms had a view of trees recovered more quickly — and were discharged a day sooner — than patients whose rooms had a view of a wall. Since then, most new-hospital construction has factored green space sightlines and access into the design.
In contrast to other parts of the country, South Floridians can enjoy the benefits of ecotherapy year-round — and for Palm Beach County residents and visitors, there are public parks galore just waiting to heal what ails you.
We suggest you and your friends and loved ones visit them as often as possible.
And there’s no need to check with your doctor first.