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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Group of diverse volunteers

And I think to myself…. what a wonderful world.
~ Louis Armstrong

Being environmentally well means “recognizing the responsibility to preserve, protect, and improve the environment and appreciating your connection to nature.” In other words, environmental wellness happens when the different surroundings in your life enhance your health and wellbeing. This includes your home, your workplace, your local community, your natural surroundings, and the planet.

Three aspects of environmental wellness include: paying attention to the different environments that you spend time in, making an effort to spend time outdoors, and being more sustainable (AKA “going green”).

Health Benefits of Environmental Wellness Across the Lifespan

No matter what your age, research demonstrates the far-ranging health benefits of environmental wellness. For example:

  • Children who play outside in nature develop superior motor skills, balance, and coordination compared to children who play on traditional playgrounds.
  • Teens and young adults report feeling calmer, less stressed, and lower anxiety after spending time in nature.
  • Adults reduce their risk of chronic diseases including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke when they spend time in green space.
  • Senior adults who garden reduce their risk of dementia by 36%, even more than those who walk every day.

How can you start improving your environmental wellness? Commit to spending more time outdoors, being more green in your purchasing decisions, and actively caring for the environment. You can also try these simple activities:

  • Write nature into your schedule. Grab a bag and pick up litter while you are out.
  • Bike or walk rather than drive. If you drive, carpool when possible.
  • Use reusable water bottles, mugs, and shopping bags to limit waste.
  • Add houseplants to your home and work environments to improve indoor air quality and to psychologically link us to nature.
  • Learn about recycling in your community and recycle as much as possible.
  • Avoid purchasing single-use plastic and pack waste-free lunches.
  • Plan your food purchases to avoid food waste and compost food scraps.
  • Encourage local schools to recycle, compost, and host community gardens.
  • Decrease your use of energy and water.
  • Grow native plants to provide shelter and food for wildlife and support pollinators.
  • Donate your time or money to organizations that protect the environment.

Satish Kumar said, “We are nature.” Environmental wellness helps us recognize our connection to the natural world and realize that when we help our environment, we help ourselves. It is important, however, to point out that not everyone has equal access to nature or green environments, due to limited green space, accessibility limitations, safety concerns, and financial resources. We all need to work together not only to protect the natural world but to also ensure that everyone can reap the health benefits of environmental wellness equally.

For More Information:

  • On sustainability, visit the OSU Extension Sustainability website to find Trash-Free Trails, Reducing Your Single Use Plastic Waste, and many other tip sheets. In addition, there are many educational videos as well as a sustainable home tour: https://fcs.osu.edu/programs/resources/sustainability
  • On the importance of nature and spending time outdoors, visit the Nature Matters website created by OSU Extension, Warren County: go.osu.edu/nature-matters

Written by Laura Stanton, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Warren County, stanton.60@osu.edu.

Reviewed by Shannon Carter, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County, carter.413@osu.edu.

Photo Credit: Image by rawpixel.com

References:

Bickel, N. B. (2021, September 13). Youth report feeling physically, mentally better after spending time in nature. University of Michigan Health. https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/wellness-prevention/youth-report-feeling-physically-mentally-better-after-spending-time-nature

Ingunn Fjørtoft. (2004). Landscape as playscape: The effects of natural environments on children’s play and motor development. Children, Youth and Environments, 14(2), 21–44. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7721/chilyoutenvi.14.2.0021

Kumar, S. (2019). Elegant Simplicity: The Art of Living Well. New Society Publishers.

Melnyk, B. M., and Neale, S. (2018, January). Nine dimensions of wellness. American Nurse Today, 13 (1). https://www.myamericannurse.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/ant1-Wellness-1218.pdf

Simons, L. A., Simons, J., McCallum, J., & Friedlander, Y. (2006). Lifestyle factors and risk of dementia: Dubbo study of the elderly. The Medical Journal of Australia, 184(2), 68–70. https://doi.org/10.5694/j.1326-5377.2006.tb00120.x

Stanton, L. (2021) Ten tips for packing waste-free lunches. Ohio State University Extension. https://go.osu.edu/waste-free-lunches

Twohig-Bennett, C., & Jones, A. (2018). The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes. Environmental Research, 166, 628–637. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2018.06.030

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Is a garden part of your healthy lifestyle? Whether you grow a few plants, a large garden plot, or visit a public garden, the health benefits can be numerous. Being in nature and gardening can improve physical, social, and mental health. In addition to health benefits, gardens are also known to increase property values, and vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens can help you stretch your grocery budget.

Gardens meet many human needs. The National Gardening Association tracks annual trends in gardening. Not surprisingly, the interest in gardening rose in 2020, when many people were at home during the pandemic. For those who were new to gardening, the reasons they gave for starting a garden included: benefits to their mental health, more time to garden due to being home, wanting to beautify their home, engaging in a positive activity, engaging their families in a positive activity, adding more exercise to their lives, and wanting to grow food. Are any of those your reasons for gardening?

Gardens come in all sizes. Just like gardeners come in all ages and sizes, gardens can be new or old, small, or large. The good news is there is no minimum or maximum amount of space or plants to earn the title gardener! Does the thought of a large garden feel overwhelming? Use a small space by planting a few vegetables in containers or design a miniature garden.

Miniature garden with plants and toy decorations

Gardens are for everyone. Gardening is recommended as a health intervention, “because gardens are accessible spaces for all kinds of people, including children, elderly people, and those with a disability” and they can be relatively easily and quickly implemented in rural as well as urban areas. The 2021 National Garden Association survey indicated that although gardening is popular with older generations, the participation of Baby Boomers remained flat or declined last year. Groups who saw a growth in gardening activity included younger families, renters and apartment/condominium dwellers, and black and people of color gardeners. The diversity of gardeners and their experiences can mirror a garden that grows large with various and diverse plants, beneficial insects, and healthy soil.

Good times and hard times. Most often, gardens offer many more good times than hard times, but there can be frustrations throughout the growing season. We cannot control some things like the weather. Other things like watering, identifying insects, choosing the right spot to plant, and catching any problems early can help reduce or alleviate hard times. If you are new to gardening and have questions, many OSU Extension offices have staff and volunteers who can help. If your local, county Extension office does not have an option like a horticulture hotline, all Ohioans are welcome to use the Ask a Master Gardener Volunteer site.

Gardens can be a great spot to relax, learn, grow, and exercise. They can also offer opportunities to meet other people and to share flowers and produce with others. What are your garden plans this year?

Sources:

2021 National Gardening Survey released. (2021). National Gardening Association. https://garden.org/newswire/view/dave/114/2021-National-Gardening-Survey-released/

Ask a Master Gardener Volunteer, Ohio State University Extension https://extension.osu.edu/https%3A/extension.osu.edu/ask-an-expert/ask-master-gardener-volunteer

Darnton, J., and McGuire, L. (2014). What are the physical and mental benefits of gardening? Michigan State University Extension. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/what_are_the_physical_and_mental_benefits_of_gardening

Hopkins, K., Coffin, D., Wertheim, F., and Bowie, C. (2008). Bulletin #2762, Growing Vegetables in Container Gardens. The University of Maine, Cooperative Extension Publications. https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/2762e/

Lamp’l, J. (2021). The National Gardening Association’s 2021 survey findings: What gardeners think. Joe Gardener. https://joegardener.com/podcast/national-gardening-association-2021-survey-findings/

Masashi,S., Gaston, K., and Yamaura, Y. (2017). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive Medicine Reports. Volume 5, March 2017, Pages 92-99 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335516301401

Nature Matters, OSU Extension, Warren County https://warren.osu.edu/program-areas/family-and-consumer-sciences/healthy-people/nature-matters

Stechschulte, J. (2014). Project Idea Starter: Miniature Gardens. Ohio State University Extension. https://ohio4h.org/sites/ohio4h/files/imce/books_resources/Self-Determined/e365-02-04%20Miniature%20Gardens.pdf

Written by: Patrice Powers-Barker, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Lucas County.

Reviewed by: Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Franklin County

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I’ve always been curious about the outdoors but never really thought about how or what I do when I’m outside, until recently when a friend asked me, “How do you do nature?”  What a great question! It’s sometimes hard to know what to do when something is new or there is a shift in perspective, so here is a quick guide that will help get you started.

Before you get started here are a few things to keep in mind…first, it does not matter where you live…city country, or in an alleyway…nature IS all around us…if we just stop and notice.  Second, don’t overthink it. Just get out before you change your mind!  Stepping outside into your backyard might be a great place to start and when ready consider going to an Ohio park. Have the courage to turn off the TV and other devices and just go outside. Begin where you feel comfortable…for me it was in my own yard and only took a few minutes, so this does not have to be time consuming unless you want it to be. 

Once outside, you might be asking yourself “What do I do now?” Here are three simple ideas and a place to start:

blue skies, looking up at pine trees
Source: Gallup, S., March 29
  1. LOOK UP. As simple as this sounds…just look up. What do you see? Are you under the trees? Or the clouds?  As you look up, your thoughts begin to slow down, and you may begin to notice things you have not seen before.
  2. LOOK DOWN. What is under your feet? Mud? Grass? Tiny flowers?  Notice how you feel in this moment. Do you feel like sitting? Did you see something you wanted to take a closer look at? It is always amazing to me to see flowers or grass growing out of tiny little cracks in rock or concrete!
  3. LISTEN.  Stop and listen. What do you hear? Birds? Wind? Cars? Is it quiet?  Our senses come alive when we take the time to be still and we notice is amazing.   
Grass with single purple flower

Going into nature might feel a little awkward, but it gets easier the more you go out. For example, I started in my backyard and now this season I have walked the same path each day with my dog. We walk under the pines near the hospital and factories (in the city). I walked that path about 100 times and then one day, suddenly, I noticed that the pine trees I was walking under were all different!! It was a moment of awe and amazement for me!  From there my mind became more curious and found myself in nature more often, craving what few tend to stop and notice.  

I hope you find your way into nature.  Remember…don’t overthink it…just go! And remember to slow down, look up, look down, listen and look all around.

References:

Gallup. S.L. (2021). Falling In Love with Nature. https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/05/19/falling-in-love-with-nature/

Stanton, L. M. (2021). Get Out! Celebrate Nature on Earth Day and Every Day. https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/04/19/get-out-celebrate-nature-on-earth-day-and-every-day

Written by:  Shari Gallup, MS., Assistant Professor, Family and Consumer Science Educator, Licking County, Ohio. Gallup.1@osu.edu.

Reviewed by:  Laura M. Stanton, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Warren County, stanton.60.osu.edu

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Three young people standing outside, one looking through binoculars and one pointing

Recently, I met an 11-year-old who likes birds. Since I self-identify as a bird nerd, we started talking and I quickly realized this young person had a genuine curiosity and passion for birds. She told me she had checked out Smithsonian Handbooks: Birds of North America from her school library and had no intention of returning it.

As a parent of teenagers, I struggle to get my kids off screens and out in nature, despite my constant reminders about the health benefits of getting outdoors. Here was a young person who wanted to get outside, so we made plans to go birding together.

And birding we did. The two of us spent 5 hours out in the cold on a gloomy, gray day and we had a blast. She brought (and I carried) the large, heavy Smithsonian library book with her. When we spotted a bird, she knew exactly where to find it in the book.

It was delightful to bird with a young person who was excited and engaged. I look forward to birding with her and other young people in the future. After spending time with a young birder, it became clear to me why we should take young birders under our wing:

  • They are connecting with nature: Our young people are disconnected from the natural world. Studies found that 8- to 12-years-old spend 4 to 6 hours on screens every day, while teens spend up to 9 hours. Time spent on screens almost always equates to time spent indoors, disconnected from nature.
  • They can showcase their strengths: Birdability is a non-profit organization that “ensures that birding truly is for everybody and every body, regardless of disability or other health concerns.” Their blog has stories from birders who are autistic, color-blind, hearing-impaired, and mobility-challenged. One young birder described her ADHD as her birding superpower since she saw and heard so many details around her!
  • They benefit from Vitamin N (Nature): There are decades of research that show the positive impact that spending time outdoors has on our mental and physical health. Nature has unique health benefits to young people, especially when it comes to kids with ADHD, allergies, asthma, weight issues, and mental health challenges.
  • They are becoming environmental stewards: Children who spend time in nature are more likely to feel connected to nature as adults, and therefore, more likely to care for and protect the natural world.

After our birding outing, I purchased my new birding buddy her own copy of the Smithsonian Handbook. I am selfishly hoping the returned library book will inspire another young birder at her school. I also added a Birds of Ohio Field Guide to her collection so the next time we’re out birding, neither of us has to lug a 752-page handbook.

Additional Birding Resources:
To find more information about birds and birding, please visit: go.osu.edu/nature-matters-birds

25th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count photo

Written by Laura M. Stanton, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Warren County, stanton.60.osu.edu

Reviewed by Shari Gallup, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Licking County, gallup.1@osu.edu

Photo Credit: Kindel Media from Pexels

References:

Alsop, F. J. (2001). Smithsonian Handbooks: Birds of North America: Eastern Region. New York, NY: DK Publishing.

Wells, N. M. & Lekies, K. S. (2006). Nature and the Life Course: Pathways from Childhood Nature Experiences to Adult Environmentalism. Children, Youth and Environments, 16(1), 1–24. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7721/chilyoutenvi.16.1.0001

Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Scripps Health. (2022, January 10). Do Your Kids Spend Too Much Time in Front of a Screen? https://www.scripps.org/news_items/4688-do-your-kids-spend-too-much-time-in-front-of-a-screen

Stanton, L. M. (2021, February 11). Benefits of Being a Bird Nerd. https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/02/11/benefits-of-being-a-bird-nerd

Stanton, L. M. (2021, April 19). Get Out! Celebrate Nature on Earth Day and Every Day. https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/04/19/get-out-celebrate-nature-on-earth-day-and-every-day

Stanton, L. M. (2021, November 30). Wonder and Wander in Nature this Winter. https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/11/30/wonder-and-wander-in-nature-this-winter

Tekiela, S. (2020). Birds of Ohio Field Guide. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications.

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If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow. This quote by an unknown author is like the Midwest winter version of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s quote about a beautiful day at the ocean: you can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf. We cannot control the immediate, outside weather, but as Dr. Roseanne Scammahorn points out, we can control our personal, internal weather of how we think about and react to external situations.  

In Ohio, we might have snow, rain, ice, or we might have a bright, clear day. Across the state, all these different situations might be true right now. You do not have to love snow (or ice or rain), but if you take the time to bring up a favorite memory or a current moment to notice the sparkle or freshness, you can add a note of gratefulness to your day for all the seasons throughout the year.

If you’re looking for a short break from working on the computer, take one and half minutes to enjoy an online snow globe or a minute to draw and watch your iceberg float at Iceberger. If you’re staying inside, grab some colored pencils and print a copy of winter coloring pages like mittens or winter birds. If coloring is not your cup of tea, make your plans now to slow down and enjoy a warm cup of tea, cocoa, or coffee.

We wish you comfort and joy all through the year, and we also acknowledge that the wintertime can sometimes be difficult. If you need any resources related to SAD (seasonal affective disorder) or other seasonal challenges, please find the best support for your situation. If you find yourself – or a loved one – struggling, please use local support or call the Ohio CareLine at 1-800-720-9616.  Ohio’s CareLine is free, anonymous, open 24/7, and staffed with licensed behavioral health professionals.

What brings you comfort or joy? Jot down a list and then do more of it! This list of Mindfulness Ideas and Activities was collected by the OSU Mindful Wellness team and can be used as an idea-starter for your practice.  If you’d like to follow a recorded mindfulness practice, we recommend the links at the Wexner Medical Center.

Bundle up and head outdoors!  Use all your senses as you walk. Use this Live Healthy Live Well blog on Wonder and Wander in Nature this Winter for ideas. For more information on the value of nature in our lives, including articles and infographics, visit Nature Matters.

If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow. How are you finding your joy this winter season?

Written by: Patrice Powers-Barker, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Lucas County

Reviewed by:  Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Franklin County, and Pat Holmes, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Montgomery County

Photo Credit: Melinda Hill, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Wayne County

Sources:

Dellifield, J. (01/12/17). Beating the winter blues. Live Healthy Live Well https://livehealthyosu.com/2017/01/12/beating-the-winter-blues-2/ 

Lobb, J. (01/07/21). Opt outside to beat the winter blues. Live Healthy Live Well. https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/01/07/opt-outside-to-beat-the-winter-blues/ 

McCallum, K. (07/14/21). Can weather affect your mood? Houston Methodist. https://www.houstonmethodist.org/blog/articles/2021/jul/can-weather-affect-your-mood/

Scammahorn, R. (01/18/22). You control your own weather. Live Healthy Live Well https://livehealthyosu.com/2022/01/18/you-control-your-own-weather/

Seasonal Affective Disorder. Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

Stanton, L. (11/30/21). Wonder and wander in nature this winter. Live Healthy Live Well https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/11/30/wonder-and-wander-in-nature-this-winter/

Stanton, L. (n.d.). Nature Matters. OSU Extension, Warren County. https://warren.osu.edu/program-areas/family-and-consumer-sciences/healthy-people/nature-matters

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Two people walking in the snow with a small dog

Getting outside is a wonderful thing to do any time of the year. The health benefits of spending time outdoors have been well documented and validated over the last four decades. For example, spending time in nature can improve your psychological wellbeing, lower your stress, and reduce your blood pressure. Although science shows all the positive ways being outside can benefit us, we also know that Americans spend 93% of their lives indoors. We challenge you to change this statistic and make plans to get outside this winter!

If you are looking for unique opportunities and ideas of what you can do outside during the colder months, consider these activities:

  • Go tubing, skiing, sledding, ice skating, and snowshoeing when there is snow on the ground. Of course, building snow forts and snowmen are also classic winter activities.
  • Find a safe place to have an outdoor fire. Invite friends and family over, bundle up, and sing or tell stories. Be sure to follow outdoor fire safety tips.
  • Watch the stars, planets, and moon during the dark winter months. Clear, cold nights are perfect for watching the night sky. Check out What’s Up: Skywatching Tips from NASA, an educational website full of great tips and resources.
  • Invite the birds into your yard. Providing bird seed and a heated water bath is sure to attract feather friends. If you enjoy birds and birdwatching, consider signing up for Project Feeder Watch and/or Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count.
  • Read a book about winter to the children in your life and then re-create the story in real life. To get ideas, check out The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats or Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.
  • Explore seasonal and holiday-themed opportunities. Many communities have light shows, ice rinks, and outdoor activities for you to enjoy during this time of the year. Check with your area parks, museums, zoos, and nature centers for events.

Before heading out, remember to follow these winter weather safety tips:

  • Monitor the weather and plan ahead.
  • Wear layers.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Protect your head, hands, and feet.
  • Wear sunglasses, apply sunscreen, and use a lip balm with sunscreen.

If you or someone you love has limited mobility or a difficult time getting outside, consider bringing nature closer to you and if possible, bring nature indoors. For example, if it snows, bring some snow inside in a plastic tub. You can also purchase a houseplant that has a seasonal scent, like rosemary or pine. A window bird feeder is another option. Each of these ideas is a way to enjoy the benefits of nature without leaving your house.

Every day is an opportunity to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer, even during these colder and darker months. Make it a priority to wonder and wander outdoors this winter!

Written by: Laura M. Stanton, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Warren County, stanton.60.osu.edu  

Reviewed by: Shari Gallup, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Licking County, gallup.1@osu.edu

Sources:

Gallup, S. (2021, May 19). Falling in Love with Nature. https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/05/19/falling-in-love-with-nature

Harvard Health Publishing (2018, December 1). The Wonders of Winter Workouts.
https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-wonders-of-winter-workouts

Kelpies, N. E., Nelson, W. C., Ott, W. R., Robinson, J. P., Tsang, A. M., Switzer, P., Behar, J. V., Hern, S. C., & Engelmann, W. H. (2001). The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. Journal of exposure analysis and environmental epidemiology, 11(3), 231–252. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.jea.7500165

Stanton, L. M. (2021, April 19). Get Out! Celebrate Nature on Earth Day and Every Day. https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/04/19/get-out-celebrate-nature-on-earth-day-and-every-day

Photo Credit: Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. When people think about heart health, they often think about the impact of diet and exercise. However, a growing body of research has also established a connection with positive thinking, optimism, and happiness.

For example, do you tend to view the cup as half empty or half full? If you view the cup as half full, you are less likely to develop heart disease than if you view the cup as half empty. While negative emotions such as depression and anger are risk factors for heart disease, optimism and happiness seem to protect the heart.

In one study, people with the most negative emotions had the highest risk for heart disease while people who scored highest for happiness had the lowest risk. In another study, women with the highest levels of optimism had a 38% lower risk of death from heart disease than those with negative attitudes. In this study, optimism was defined as feeling hopeful and confident about the future.

Cheerful diverse people together in a park

How can the connection between positive psychology and heart health be explained? Three possible explanations are:

  1. Lifestyle: Happy people tend to sleep better, eat better, smoke less, and get more exercise; all behaviors that lower the risk of heart disease.
  2. Physiology: Happiness produces positive chemical changes and reduces stress hormones.
  3. Genetics: People who are predisposed to happiness may also be predisposed to have lower rates of heart disease.

If you tend to see the cup half empty, don’t despair! Research suggests that negative people feel happier when they:

  • Express gratitude on a regular basis.
  • Practice being optimistic.
  • Initiate random acts of kindness.
  • Engage in mindfulness activities.
  • Visualize their best self.
  • Savor joyful events.
  • Practice forgiveness.
  • Get outside.

Medical professionals advocate that you should devote 15 to 20 minutes a day doing something that brings you joy. What can you commit to doing every day to increase your happiness and take care of your heart at the same time? We would love to hear your ideas and plans.

If you still find yourself searching for happiness but not quite achieving it, you should reach out and talk to a health care professional. Together, you should consider environmental factors that could be impacting you, such as your diet, lack of sleep, or potential mental health side effects from medication.

To learn more about the importance of happiness and your health, join us for Happiness 101 on August 25, 2021 at 12noon. To register for this free, 30-minute Wellness Wednesday Webinar sponsored by Live Healthy Live Well, visit: go.osu.edu/WellnessWeds

Written by: Laura Stanton, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Warren County, stanton.60@osu.edu.

Reviewed by: Pat Brinkman, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Fayette County, brinkman.93@osu.edu.

References:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 8). Heart Disease Facts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

Davidson, K. W., Mostofsky, E., & Whang, W. (2010). Don’t worry, be happy: positive affect and reduced 10-year incident coronary heart disease: the Canadian Nova Scotia Health Survey. European Heart Journal, 31(9), 1065–1070. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862179

Kim, E. S., Hagan, K. A., Grodstein, F., DeMeo, D. L., De Vivo, I., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2017). Optimism and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185(1), 21–29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5209589

Kraft, T. L., & Pressman, S. D. (2012). Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response. Psychological Science, 23(11), 1372–1378. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612445312

Pitt, B. & Deldin, P.J. (2010). Depression and cardiovascular disease: have a happy day—just smile!, European Heart Journal, 31(9), 1036–1037. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehq031

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When was the last time you fell in love? Maybe it was when you found a special someone, got a new puppy or saw a beautiful grand-baby for the first time. What about falling in love with nature? It only takes a moment to stop and notice things happening in nature, and the good news is you do not have to be a naturalist to reap the benefits of bringing nature into your daily life!

Experiencing nature can be a simple as stopping to notice the big, puffy white clouds in the sky or watching the sun set from your window. The other day I found beautiful bright pink pinecones on a tree that I walk by every single day and never noticed. When we stop and notice the little things in nature, we begin experiencing a deeper connection to something more.

Pink pinecones
Photo source: Shari Gallup, 2021. “Pink Pinecones.”

Nature has a way of calming and healing the human mind and body. Have you ever noticed that you feel happier when you spend time in nature?

Spending time in nature can reduce blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. Research done in hospitals, offices and schools found that the presence of a plant in a workroom can decrease stress and anxiety, and office plants have been shown to reduce employee sick days and improve work productivity.

It is easy to let daily life go by with the busyness of ballgames, work, and other activities, but it only takes a moment to stop and “smell the roses.”  If it is not possible to get outside, here are a few ways to bring nature inside:

Bring plants indoors: I keep a mint plant on my desk and between meetings, I scratch the leaf to release the oil scent and take a few deep breaths in through my nose. My eyes naturally begin to close, and I become calm. Plants help reduce stress and tension. Choose plants that you enjoy and that are easy to grow indoors, or bring in fresh flowers and place them in a container where you can see them.  

Bring the smell of nature indoors: Bring in aromatic flowers, herbs, or pinecones, or use diffusers, candles, or sprays in natural scents like pine, citrus, lavender, or lemon.

Watch the birds:  Set up a bird or suet feeder near a popular window, grab a pair of binoculars if you have one, and watch nature from indoors. There is a lot of great information available from the National Audubon Society if you are new to bird watching, and there are many benefits to becoming a bird nerd

If you want to fall in love with nature, start with something small at first, or choose just one of the suggestions above and go slow…that’s the whole idea!

If you would like to learn more, please join me for a free class on Nature and Nutrition on June 9th at noon!  Register at https://go.osu.edu/wellnessweds.

Written by Shari Gallup, MS, Certified Health and Wellness Coach, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Licking County

Reviewed by Jenny Lobb, MPH, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Franklin County and Laura Stanton, MS, Family and Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Warren County.

Sources:

Beans, Laura (2014).  Study Shows Living Close to Nature Improves Mental Health. https://www.ecowatch.com/study-shows-living-close-to-nature-improves-mental-health-1881858780.html

National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (2015). #PlantsDoThat. https://consumerhort.org/plantsdothat-3/

University of Minnesota. Taking Charge of Your Wellbeing. Healing Environment. https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/healing-environment  

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A great way to celebrate Earth Day is spending time outside and connecting with nature. Time in nature offers an easy and inexpensive way to increase your happiness, improve your mood, and feel part of something larger than yourself. Studies have shown that getting outside can:

  • Improve your memory and attention: After just an hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20%. In workplaces designed with nature in mind, employees are more productive and take less sick time.
  • Heal: Patients in hospital rooms with a view of trees had shorter stays and less need for pain medications compared to patients with views of brick.
  • Improve psychological well-being: Joggers who exercised in a natural green setting felt less anxious, angry, or depressed than people who jogged in an urban setting.
Child running outside under flowering trees

We also know from research that children who spend time outdoors are more likely to develop positive environmental attitudes and behaviors as adults. One of the best ways you can take care of our planet is to encourage children and youth to get outside.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, has created an expansive list of activities to encourage children to spend more time outdoors. Here are just a few ideas you can try with your children or grandchildren:

  1. Maintain a birdbath, grow native plants, or build a bat house. For more ideas, read National Audubon Society’s Invitation to a Healthy Yard.
  2. Collect lightning bugs at dusk and release them at dawn.
  3. Keep a terrarium or aquarium and learn about the plants and animals you observe.
  4. Be a cloud spotter; build a backyard weather station. A young person just needs a view of the sky. Check out The Kid’s Book of Weather Forecasting for more ideas.
  5. Encourage a “green hour” every day. Give kids a daily green hour that includes time outside, unstructured play, and interaction with the natural world.
  6. Collect stones. Even the youngest children love gathering rocks, shells, and fossils. Read Rock and Fossil Hunter by Ben Morgan together.
  7. Learn about and raise butterflies. Consider purchasing a monarch rearing kit and growing milkweed so you can hatch and release your own butterflies.
  8. Hang up a bird feeder and watch birds. Have them close their eyes and just listen. For more tips, check out National Audubon Society’s Easy Ways to Get Kids Birding and Bird Sleuth Investigator from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

No matter what you do while you are outdoors, remember that simply going outside is the most important step. Despite all the positive benefits of being outdoors, according to the EPA, Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors. On this Earth Day, make a pledge to get out more and bring some young people with you. Nurturing the next generation of our planet’s caretakers is a perfect way to celebrate!

References:

Bratman, G. N., Daily, G. C., Levy, B. J., & Gross, J. J. (2015). The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition. Landscape and Urban Planning, 138, 41-50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005

Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Taylor, A. & Kuo, M. (2006). Is contact with nature important for healthy child development? state of the evidence. Children and their Environments: Learning, Using and Designing Spaces. 124-140.
https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511521232.009

Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224 (4647), 420–421. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.6143402

Wells, N. M. & Lekies, K. S., (2006). Nature and the life course: Pathways from childhood nature experiences to adult environmentalism. Children, Youth and Environments, 16 (1), 41663.

Written by: Laura M. Stanton, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Warren County, stanton.60.osu.edu.

Reviewed by: Shari Gallup, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Licking County, gallup.1@osu.edu.

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Last year, I transformed into a self-proclaimed bird nerd. The change started in the spring of 2020 when I started working from home because of COVID. I placed my desk next to a window and in April, I noticed a robin building a nest. Watching the robin sit on her nest for hours upon hours was fascinating and I was quickly hooked.

In May, bluebirds visited my suburban backyard for the first time and after putting up a bluebird house, we hosted the pair of bluebirds and their 3 adorable babies several weeks later. I was fascinated by the whole process, from the nesting, feeding, and successful fledging (developing wing feathers that are large enough for flight). I cheered the first day the babies flew out of their box and also experienced sadness when they left their house for good. My sorrow was quickly replaced with joy when a pair of Baltimore orioles passed through for a couple of days. I was enthralled watching the colorful birds eat the grape jelly I set out. Summer brought ruby-throated hummingbirds and warblers. This winter, I am enjoying a barred owl who lives nearby and occasionally graces me with his majestic presence.

Picture of a Barred Owl by Laura Stanton.
Barred Owl
Photo by Laura M. Stanton

Although the joy of birding happens right outside my window most days, whenever possible, I safely visit different habitats to expand the variety of birds to watch. Whether I am inside or outside, I notice so much more than just the birds. I notice positive changes happening within.

The benefits I have experienced from watching our feathered friends have been confirmed by research. Why is birding good for your health? Watching birds:

  • Promotes mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the moment, and without judgment. Whether you are birding inside or out, you are in the “here and now” which has been shown to decrease stress, anxiety, and rumination, and improve attention, memory, and focus. In addition, mindfulness can reduce chronic pain.
  • Requires stealth and silence. Spending time in silence lowers blood pressure, increases blood flow, and enhances sleep. Silence can also be therapeutic for depression.
  • Encourages meditation. During meditation, you eliminate the “noise” in your mind, creating a sense of calm and peace that benefits your emotional well-being and your overall health.
  • Relies on your sense of sight and hearing. A study found that just listening to bird song contributes to perceived attention restoration and stress recovery. Click here to listen to a sample of common bird songs.
  • Prevents nature-deficit disorder, a phenomenon related to the growing disconnect between humans and the natural world. Americans, on average, spend approximately 90% of their time indoors.
  • Benefits your heart. Regular exposure to nature is associated with improvements in cardiovascular disease and longevity.
  • Stimulates a sense of gratitude, which is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.

Sources
Carter, S. (2016). Nature deficit disorder. Live Smart Ohio. Retrieved from https://livesmartohio.osu.edu/mind-and-body/carter-413osu-edu/nature-deficit-disorder   

Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books: Chapel Hill, NC.

Powers-Barker, P. (2016). Introduction to mindfulness. Ohioline. Retrieved from
https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-5243

Stanton, L. M. (2020). Barred Owl. JPEG file.

Stanton, L. M. (2020). Noises off: The benefits of silence. Live Smart Ohio. Retrieved from
https://livesmartohio.osu.edu/mind-and-body/stanton-60osu-edu/noises-off-the-benefit-of-silence

Written by Laura M. Stanton, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Warren County, stanton.60.osu.edu

Reviewed by Misty Harmon, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Perry County, harmon.416@osu.edu

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