As a girl, I knew a lot of types and different species of plants, mushrooms, and animals. I was paying attention to flowers that grew in different seasons and looking forward to pick them up for my moms’ vase. Today I just rush passing them by. It so sad but this is what had happened in today’s society and can be considered as a serious problem. There is evidence that a healthy natural environment, particularly where people live and regular access to it, can contribute positively to the physical health and mental wellbeing of the population, and that it has the most benefit on those with the highest levels of illness. It’s really a pity when we don't use what we have in front of almost all homes: parks, forests, walking paths, botanical gardens, and natural urban areas.
Young people and nature
A micro survey was co-designed by young people, for young people, to help recognize feelings and connections with the outdoors and nature. Over 400 young people aged from 8 to 26 years old in Scotland shared their positive and negative experiences about nature. Positively, 90% of respondents said that outdoors makes them feel very happy or happy. A big majority, 95% of respondents said they do feel a connection with the outdoors or nature in some way. Survey also asked how young people connect with nature or outdoors. On that question 55% answered they get some air, peace, and quiet by themselves; 52% hang out with friends; 51% do sport or engage in fitness; 49% have time in the wild, camping and having adventure; 43% are resting and “chilling out”; 40% are getting creative; 34% do dog walking; 21% are working or volunteering outdoors or in the nature and 5% don’t really connect with the nature. Research findings sound really good and optimistic but there is also a question of how often that connection happens and how much they need and appreciate it. We also have to consider that a survey was made in Scotland where the country really has a lot of green outdoor spaces, gardens, forests, and parks. A similar survey would be needed in the bigger "metropolitan" city where there is not so much green spaces and nature provided and examine if young people feel the same connection with nature as ones from this Scotland survey.
Nature and childhood experiences
Findings also identified connections between positive childhood experiences in nature and caring about the environment in adulthood. Most of the participants reported that they love nature, with slightly more females than males stating that. There were no differences across social classes in expressed love of nature, but there were differences between individuals who lived in a city and those who lived in a rural area, with the residents of cities stating that they love nature more often than the rural residents. Maybe the reason lies in the fact that participants from cities have troubles to go and connect with nature because it is rare to find a green space. There were also differences in stated love of nature between the young adults who played in nature as children and those who did not. Those who played in nature identified themselves as lovers of nature while those who did not play in nature did not identify themselves as such. Those who loved nature also stated that they wanted to take care of it. The report shows us how important is to be connected with nature from childhood on to develop a healthy lifestyle and habits that will help to respect, love and preserve nature in the future.
Studies show that women spend less time physically active outdoors than men and that this difference begins when women are teenagers. There are many reasons, for example, worrying about hygiene, societal pressures and gender stereotyping to fear of crime and lack of opportunity. Boys maybe play soccer or basketball, but girls think there is nothing interesting for them and they rather stay inside and chat on social platforms. This is a situation, everyone would like to change. Because the outdoors are for everyone, it’s free to access and easy to get involved. Worth to mention is the #GirlsGetOut message that Young Scott and Scottish Natural Heritage are getting across this year through a campaign that includes a series of animated films. Animations have been created with young women to encourage others to make the most of Scotland's outdoors for their health and wellbeing. My personal opinion is that videos are very well designed because they are joining modern principles that young people use with nature, without judging modern ones. They show that is okay to do Instagram photos, but why not do them in nature. Why not be inspired in local green spaces and take some great snaps at the same time. Videos are encouraging going for a walk with (real) friends and show that it can be fun and healthy at the same time. Next video is saying that you don’t need to play sport to be healthy—walking a dog is already a great exercise. Are you having a bad day? Getting outside can make you feel way better and a bit more relaxed. Why not head to the park and listen to the music there instead of in your room? Video is also saying that even a walk to the bus station count in the daily recommended 60 minutes exercise. The campaign really created a lot of good and simple advice to encourage girls to enjoy some time outdoors without pressure and stigma. Here is the website link if you want to watch them https://cumbernauldlivinglandscape.org.uk/get-girls-out/.
Ways to connect back with nature
Because we talked so much about how good is to be in the contact with nature is also the right thing to do to write a couple of suggestions on how to do it in the right way. A lot of people imagine that you have to climb the highest mountain in the region or to camp outside for 1 month to be called a nature lover. That is honestly not true. Everybody has his/her own way to connect and all acts to do it can be done in the daily level, immersed in our young, busy lives. Just some small, simple changes can bring an enormous amount of joy and mental/physical well-being. There is an example of a day, which would be more in harmony with nature:
You can start connecting with nature in the morning. Open your window and stand in front of it. Breathe in the fresh air, look outside and observe whatever you can see from it: colors, shapes, textures, and sounds. Also, notice the color of the sky, the shapes of the clouds and the sounds of the birds if there are some. Allow the natural world to ground you into here and now. When preparing breakfast (lunch, snacks, and dinner), try to include as many natural and non-processed ingredients in your menu. If you have a balcony you can enjoy your meal, coffee, and tea outside. Get some sunshine for vitamin D and observe trees or people on the street. If you’re doing some sports exercise in the morning you may try yoga or stretch on the grass, between the trees. You can also change the treadmill in your gym for a nature path in a nearby forest. It makes a huge difference for your brain and your muscles. According to a study, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression, and increased energy. Study participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction after outdoor exercise than after indoor activities. Trees, parks, dogs, and architecture make for more interesting viewing than the row of other runners in front of you at the gym. Besides, a University of Michigan study found that being in nature improves your memory and attention span. After some studying or work, you might want to take a break. It is a perfect time to go outside and sit on the bank and read a book, listen to music, meditate on the grass or go for a walk. While walking, actively examine and notice the trees, the clouds, the birds, the weeds, the air, and anything else that you cross along the way. You can buy an animal and plant encyclopedia and educate yourself about them. Collect items from nature that you can then use to create art, collages or to paint with. Nature can also exist indoors: buy some houseplants, keep a jar of fresh flowers, put a crystal on your desk, place a jar full of seashells and sand in your living room. A great thing to start is also little veggie, fruit or herb garden in your balcony. Start small and maintainable and see what grows from there. The last suggestion is to find your favorite local spot somewhere in nature or somewhere outdoors and visit it time to time then. You can also share it with your friends or loved ones like in the movie where the protagonist will often have a secret place where they go to brood or ponder.
Because nature is not a place to visit. It is our home, which some of us already forgotten. It is good for our health, it makes us happier and it’s free, which comes especially handy in our “on the budget” volunteering days. Why not give it a try again!
Broom, C., (2017). Exploring the relations between childhood experiences in nature and young adults' environmental attitudes and behaviors. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 33(1), 34-47.