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Do You Need a Nature Prescription?

Nature therapy may mean that better health is right outside your door.

Adding Nature to Your Day continued...

Kids should always be supervised by a responsible adult, Brown advises, and parents should be familiar with which playgrounds are safe in their neighborhood. For playground safety tips, check the web site of the National Association for Playground Safety.

Safety is an important factor for adults, as well. Whether you’re taking an urban hike or a walk in the park, the USDA Forest Service recommends that you do the following:

  • Go with a companion (or at least let someone know where and when you’ll be going)
  • Keep your eye on the weather
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the conditions and locale
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Especially if it’s warm outside, take along a bottle of water so you won’t become dehydrated
  • Slather on the sunscreen, and, if necessary, insect repellent.

Clearing Your Mind

Being outside not only improves physical health but offers mental clarity as well, which is one reason certified sex counselor Eric Marlowe Garrison suggests that his clients meet him outside.

“People talk more when they’re moving,” says Garrison, who practices in New York City and Richmond, Va. “The act of physical movement triggers the mind. I can accomplish more with my clients during a 45-minute walk in Central Park than in two hours in my office.”

Garrison, who calls himself a “country boy” at heart, started taking his practice outside about five years ago. At that time, his decision was based on personal preference, but he now finds that research is backing up his instincts.

In a 2010 Japanese study of shinrin-yoku (defined as “taking in the forest atmosphere, or forest bathing”), for example, researchers found that elements of the environment, such as the odor of wood, the sound of running stream water, and the scenery of the forest can provide relaxation and reduce stress; those taking part in the study experienced lower levels of cortisol, a lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure.

For Garrison, however, the studies really don’t matter. They only confirm what he has long believed. “I can’t deny what I’m seeing with my clients,” he says. “There’s a world of benefit to being out in nature.”

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Reviewed on June 19, 2013

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