What would our lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology? What if instead of screens, we spent most of our time looking upon sunsets, crashing waves, and the Milky Way? How would we feel if we consistently moved our bodies as they were designed to? What if we knew exactly which nutrients and even which thoughts would fuel performance at our highest level? Just what is our highest level?
Over the past ten years these are the questions that have intrigued me most. Exploring them has become my greatest passion and has led to some of the most fun and enlightening moments of my life.
Through it all, I’ve uncovered a number of simple yet extremely powerful truths. At the root of these truths lies nature. Our health, well-being, and ability to thrive are all directly correlated to the extent to which we are connected to nature and her processes.
Take a moment to think about that. When is it you feel your absolute best? Right now, instead of reading this on a screen, my guess is you’d rather be outside, playing with friends, exploring a National Park or on a beach with your feet in the sand, sun on your face and the scent of the sea on the breeze.
I don’t take it personally! As I write this on a summer afternoon the foothills of Boulder, Colorado loom above my own screen. I look forward to running their trails and to a dip in their cold waters this evening. I know that will recharge my mind and body and for me it’s like going home. It is for all of us really. After all, we are from nature and for the vast majority of our evolution, nature was exactly that, our home.
There is a biological reason for this and a term to describe it, “biophilia.” This means “love of life/living systems.”
It posits that we humans are wired to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. We do things like gush over baby animals, put plants and flowers in our homes and innately vilify those who do harm to the planet and its living organisms. I could go on and on here. In short, though, our biologically ingrained love of life actually helps sustain life. How cool is that?!
This is not a new understanding. From the dawn of humankind, our ancestors have been down with it. Sure, for the vast majority of our existence, we had no other choice. Once the Industrial Revolution was well underway though and people began to pay the price from a health perspective it became clear that a sedentary life spent indoors at a desk was at odds with our human lineage.
It was around this time that all those from urban park planners to philosophers to medical doctors began to recognize that “nature could have a medicinal effect, providing a tonic for the brain (and body) as it dealt with a world that was becoming increasingly complex” (Your Brain on Nature – Selhub & Logan). Prescriptions for a walk in the woods, soaks in hot springs and a boom in sanitariums marked the early 1900’s. A little later as the cultural pendulum swung toward evidentiary validation, doctors and scientists began to distance themselves from the “soft notions” that nature contact itself was a healing agent. Advertisements for nature retreats and sanitariums gave way to those for the first synthesized anti-anxiety drugs. Rather quickly the notion that purposeful time in nature was the prescription faded.
Today we are at odds with our healthcare (some call it disease care) system. By and large, it places irresponsible emphasis on “modern medicine” while forsaking and even contradicting the three other pillars of health: nature, nutrition and movement. Certainly, there is a time and place for modern medicine, but this is the same system that created an epidemic of prescription drug abuse, forsook tried and true natural remedies for synthetic ones that multiply until you end up with handfuls of them, and made billionaires out of many for whom our good health is directly at odds with their profits and motivation.
All this comes at a time when we’ve never been more disconnected from nature. Tempted by the lure of technology and the ease of the artificial, in many ways we’ve come to be defined by the symptoms of this disconnect and an entirely new crop of health and societal issues we feel ill-equipped to solve. Mental health disorders are rampant, depression in particular. Young adults today have a 1-in-4 chance of depression, versus 1-in-10 odds of just two generations ago (Your Brain on Nature – Selhub & Logan).
We’re losing our cognitive edge. Instead of increasing as it has steadily since IQ tests were first administered, for the first time developed nations reported a decline in IQ in the 1990s, the same time we began our love affair with all things digital. We’ve even lost a good deal of our empathy, as much as 49% since the 1980s. Heavy internet users score the lowest. Without empathy our innate predisposition to help others, something that has helped our species and the planet survive and thrive is at risk.
On a far more positive note (phew!), good people around the world are doing great things to reintegrate nature into modern life.
A movement to reconnect is taking root. The notion from the sanitarium days that placed nature as the prescription is experiencing its own rebirth in Japan and South Korea where Shinrin Yoku, or “forest bathing” is being prescribed by medical doctors. Here in the West, we look on with fascination and forest bathing clubs are popping up in major cities.
No longer willing to trust our health to the government and for-profit companies, we are turning in droves to natural and alternative remedies.
We’re forsaking the gym for the outdoors, filling our homes with plants, and visiting our parks and public lands in record numbers. Glamping is a thing. A big thing! In my opinion it’s a good thing. Whatever gets us outdoors.
Let me say it again; our health, well-being and ability to thrive are all directly correlated to the extent to which we are connected to nature. This is the trail map to a life defined not by our aches and pains or our fears and addictions, but by one in which we are thriving, reconnected and performing at a level we never thought possible. After a decade of study and some pretty wild experiments, for me it all boils down to that. I’m going to keep at it though, researching, experimenting and having fun at it! It’s my life’s work and Ned gives me the platform to dive even deeper.
Now please, for the love of yourself, get outside!
Co-Founder of Ned & Co.
"This photo was taken in Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument toward the end of seven weeks spent entirely outdoors experimenting with the powers of nature. After all that time it shows me at my very best, most at peace and most alive!" -Ret