The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Panacea

Posted by | May 17, 2014

This boy was checked for ticks immediately following this photo. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom... from ticks!

The following was published in the Biddeford-Saco Journal Tribune Sunday edition, 5/18/2014.

Hey, parents! Psst – come over here. I’ve got something for ya. Something I think you’re gonna like.

What if I told you I had something that supercharged your kids’ test scores and GPA, made them more attentive and cooperative, improved “good” cholesterol and blood circulation, lowered obesity and stress? How much would that be worth to you? What would you pay for this wonder drug? $100? $1,000?

Well, it’s not for sale. Actually, it’s free, it’s legal, and you’ve already got plenty at home.

It’s exercise. Specifically, outdoor exercise. And all of those benefits listed above – plus many, many more – have been repeatedly and scientifically verified over the past 30 years. This is relatively new science, but what it tells us should send us all stampeding for the doors.

Working on ways to combat this “nature deficit disorder” for the past six years, I’ve collected literally hundreds of clinical studies discussing these findings. But I don’t need to cite all those studies here, because for us Mainers, this shouldn’t be news. We’re already an outdoorsy state. Most of us have felt the runner’s high, taken a forest bath, or even just felt the power of Vitamin Sun.

But here’s the challenge: kids today (and adults too), even in Maine, are going outside less than ever before. According to the 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey, daily screen time, in hours, outnumbers exercise and outdoor time more than five to one. So all those benefits that could be had are being left behind. Obesity, diabetes, ADHD, and asthma rates have skyrocketed, and many of the studies piled on my desk at the Wells Reserve say the inside life is at least partially to blame.

If you think about it, it’s really a recent development: of the last 200,000 years of our species, humans have only gone predominantly inside for the last 300. We Homo sapiens just aren’t built for this kind of existence: the context in which we physically developed into the species we are was the jungle, the savannah, the forests and coasts.

Unfortunately, those are the very areas which we’ve increasingly paved over or fenced off. Which brings us to the other challenge: conservation requires conservationists, but conservationists are formed by their experiences outdoors. If each succeeding generation is going outdoors less, there will be fewer adults in the future who care about saving the outdoors. I.e., if Teddy Roosevelt had never ridden the range then, there might be no national parks now.

But these are challenges easily overcome. In a world of seemingly continuous doom and gloom, in a news cycle hell-bent on telling us the Next Big Thing to Fear, there is, for once, an honest quick-fix, a miracle cure. The prescription for so many of the ills that plague our society is to just go outside. (Even just 30 minutes of walking, three times a week, has marked benefits.) Take a tip and take a romp through the woods. It’s safer, healthier, and probably more fun than staying inside, and it’s also just about the cheapest health care you can get.

 

Nik Charov is president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. His Sunday column, “Between Two Worlds,” ventures forth from the intersection of art and science, past and future, indoors and out. More at wellsreserve.org/twoworlds.

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