Don Carruthers Den Hoed
has a simple prescription for curing
many of the modern-day mental
illnesses that can trouble us: “Take a
dose of nature; repeat.”
As Public Engagement and
Inclusion Team lead for Alberta Parks
– Kananaskis, Carruthers Den Hoed
believes time spent in nature has the
power to restore anyone’s mind, body
“You don’t need fancy equipment,or to be the world’s best mountainclimber. Simply connecting to natureis good for you,” he says.
A significant body of evidence nowproves the point. People who walkthrough a natural environment havea lower blood pressure and heart ratethan they do if they walk through anurban setting. One study has shownthat people recover from surgeryfaster if their hospital room has aview of a forested area.
“There is something about beingin nature that helps people relax andbiologically slow down,” says Dr.
Laura Calhoun, an Edmonton basedpsychiatrist and provincial medicaldirector of Alberta Health Services’Addiction and Mental Health.
When under stress, the adrenal
glands produce cortisol, a hormone
Forests and fresh air can
restore mind, body and
that helps prepare the body for afight-or-flight response. However,toxic stress—chronic, unrelentingand unpredictable stress—canlead to low but steady levels ofcortisol, which, Calhoun notes, havebeen associated with anxiety anddepression. Being in nature, however,helps keep stress—and perhapscortisol—in check.
Carruthers;Den;Hoed,;a;Universityof Calgary PhD candidate who iscurrently conducting research onnature’s effect on people, says naturehas other benefits, too.
“One of the theories suggests
nature helps us restore our ability
to focus after being depleted by all
the daily activities that demand our
attention. Nature is an antidote to
Other theories non-human
relationships, such as with pets,
or a connection to the wilderness,
help promote wellness. Another
idea is that we all have an innate,
evolutionary affinity to natural
places, which can be disrupted by
spending all our time in towns and
But you don’t have to move toa cabin in the woods to reap thebenefits of being in nature. “If you’relooking to improve mental health, gofor a walk by a river or spend sometime in a garden,” Calhoun says.
Adds Carruthers Den Hoed: “Onephrase I find myself using quite a bitis: ‘nature doesn’t just make you feelgood, it makes you well.’ ”
— Greg Harris
Research shows spending time in nature can lower blood pressure and stress, improve anxiety,
depression, attention fatigue and mental well-being.