If you read this column often, you know that I like to talk about the outdoors. Backpacking, snowshoeing — whatever the season allows.
Often, these thoughts turn into conversations with friends, and we all remark about needing more “mountain time.”
“Mountain time” can mean any number of things. It can mean quiet time. It can equate to literal time spent in the mountains. Or, it can include activities in town that include a taste of the outdoors — walks on local pathways and trails, floating a river, etc.
We all (I hope) can testify to the healing nature of time spent outside.
John Muir, often quoted when referring to the outdoors, once said, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
While many can testify to that very thing, science has had a harder time pinning down the physical and emotional health benefits of being outside.
In a recent edition of Backpacker magazine, an article explored new efforts being made to quantify the health benefits of nature in a scientific manner.
Annette McGivney wrote the article “Wilderness RX.” In it she discusses a personal breakdown she had, then how she healed by spending time outside (along with traditional talk therapy, etc.).
Researchers have started putting words to our departure from the outdoors, naming things like “nature deficiency disorder.” Who knew those could be real issues?
As McGivney points out, it is difficult to design and conduct a controlled experiment to measure nature’s impact on psychological markers. How do you measure happiness? Even the definition of “nature” can become tricky. Does it include your backyard? City parks? Or does the setting need to be more wild?
The Sierra Club and researchers from the University of California – Berkeley (yes, I am aware of the sometimes negative feelings for both the Sierra Club and California), created the Great Outdoors Lab to study the scientific affect nature has on human health. In the last three years, the lab has conducted research on how the outdoors impacts the human nervous system. The first article on its findings will be published this year in a peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychological Association.
I’m interested in the results and how they stand up to scientific scrutiny. Are they reliable results? Do they show what I know I feel when I head to the woods? I hope so.
We have such easy access to the wild right here in Sheridan. I, for one, don’t take advantage of that space as often as I should. But even surrounding myself with memories of time in the mountains — photos, postcards, letters and other mementos — helps bring calm to the craziness of any given day.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
— John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist, author and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States (1838-1914)