Zoo visits among outdoor activities beneficial to health

2/8/2013

As a society, we are spending less and less time outdoors. Since Mother Nature is giving us a break from the cold, let's break this trend. The term "nature deficit disorder" was created by Richard Louv to describe this trend where so many people are spending their time inactive and indoors, nature deficit disorder. Nature deficit disorder is not an official clinical term, but it is an accurate description of the correlations that are being found between many of the medical and psychological problems that are on the rise in the United States and the amount of time we spend outside.

As a society, we are spending less and less time outdoors. Since Mother Nature is giving us a break from the cold, let's break this trend. The term "nature deficit disorder" was created by Richard Louv to describe this trend where so many people are spending their time inactive and indoors, nature deficit disorder. Nature deficit disorder is not an official clinical term, but it is an accurate description of the correlations that are being found between many of the medical and psychological problems that are on the rise in the United States and the amount of time we spend outside.

Mentally, we are adapted to the stimulations that nature itself provides. Our ancestors were not surrounded by the flashing lights of screens or the constant high pitch and/or loud noises of mechanical devices. All of these stimulations are recent in human history. In most cases, these noisy and flashy technologies haven't even been around for 100 years. This added stimulation has had a direct effect on our minds and the minds of our children. In the past, we had time to calm down and relax after extreme stimulation. Now we are constantly bombarding our brain with information from our various gadgets.

Think about it, how long have you gone without using a phone, computer or other device? According to various studies, we spend more than 50 hours per week using our myriad of electronic devices. In 2010, our time spent on the Internet surpassed our time spent in front of the television, but our time in front of the television did not drop. This means we increased our time with electronics at the sacrifice of our time doing other activities. The constant inflow of this visual and auditory stimulation rewires us, and not necessarily for the better.

As we have decreased the time our children spend outdoors there has been an increase in learning disabilities such as ADHD. It has been shown that you can reduce, and in a few cases reverse, the effects of ADHD in children simply by incorporating outdoor activities into after school and weekend time. The calm and random aspects of being engrossed in nature help our brains heal and refocus.

Imagine lifting a weight all day long without a break. Eventually you would injure yourself because, while exercising a body part is good to do, overusing a muscle can cause strains or even worse, a torn muscle. This is what we are doing to our brains when we continually bombard it with the whirs and flashes of the technology around us. While our muscle can tell us through pain and soreness that it needs a break, our brain usually only tells us when something is wrong after it is already damaged.

Our minds are not the only part of us suffering from being out of touch with nature. Our bodies also have been damaged through the reduced activity that being indoors causes. Everyone has heard by now that the United States is in an obesity epidemic. More than one in three Americans are considered obese. This problem then leads to the various chronic diseases associated with obesity such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even some forms of cancer.

When we decrease our time spent outdoors, we also decrease the time we spend walking, running, jumping or climbing. Unlike other epidemics, the obesity epidemic is something that we can act upon and control. Together we can pull our nation back to a state of fit frontier women and men.

I, for one, am just as guilty as any other, if not more so, about engorging myself in the lovely world of electronics. I thoroughly enjoy my gadgets. But I propose a challenge. Try to add a small outdoor activity that is new to your routine. Maybe you can add a walk down the Talley Trail once or twice a week. Or you could jog around the Forest Park Lake Loop by 11th and Mary streets. Try to have a picnic at Finnup Park or the zoo, perhaps even with some outdoor games. You could even reduce your use of gasoline by biking to work or the grocery store. All of these things get us more active and reduce our time indoors. By incorporating our wonderful natural world, we can push back against a number of ailments that are plaguing our nation.

At Lee Richardson Zoo, we are happy to help with your endeavors. Simply observing our animals can be extremely relaxing and rewarding, and a walk around our mile-long road loop can be an invigorating way to combine pleasure and exercise. Lee Richardson Zoo's mission to instill appreciation and encourage stewardship of the Earth's natural treasures through the exhibition, conservation and interpretation of wildlife is even more important.

Not only do we need to preserve the environment for nature's sake, but also for our own sake. This world nurtured us to be what we are today, and we are more attached to it than many people realize. So get outside and remind yourself how amazing the nature around us is.

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