Numerous studies have shown that simply spending more time in nature can induce amazing psychological and physical benefits. As a result, many health care professionals have started prescribing Vitamin N. Haven’t heard of that particular vitamin? You won’t find it listed on the back of any multi-vitamin label because Vitamin N is the clever name one author gave to nature as a way of calling attention to its healing potential!
What is Vitamin N?
Richard Louv introduced the term Vitamin N in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Louv’s endorsement of nature as a healing element has garnered a great deal of attention, especially in today’s technology-driven society. Since his book was published, hundreds of similar tomes have appeared, all expressing the theme that the value of nature to our well-being is priceless and precious. While great thinkers stretching back to Aristotle have extolled the virtues of nature, today scientists are not just philosophizing about nature’s benefits, they are conducting research that demonstrates nature’s ability to influence health.
Numerous studies indicate that individuals who spend ample time in natural settings report feeling calmer, happier, more creative and less anxious. Some studies reveal that exposure to the natural world can bring about improved concentration and memory, decrease sick days and increase social skills. In addition, researchers have found that being in nature can decrease human stress hormones, blood pressure, and heart rate. In fact, studies have shown that merely viewing pictures of nature can have positive psychological and biological effects. The point is, one doesn’t have to live near a forest or at the ocean to reap the potential benefits of the natural world. For instance, a simple thing like placing a green plant on one’s desk has been found to have a positive influence on subjective well-being.
Vitamin N’s Effect
How exactly can a small houseplant or a picture of a sunset profoundly affect our being? Neuroscientific findings suggest that exposure to the natural environment impacts several significant brain functions. For example, the data shows that individuals who spend a certain amount of time outdoors have increased levels of serotonin and less blood flow to a region of the brain associated with depressive ideation. Conversely, it has been shown that research subjects who were examined after exposure to congested urban settings were found to have more blood flow to a part of the brain where anxiety and fear are processed (the amygdala). As with any study or body of evidence, not all experts are in agreement as to the interpretation of the findings. As an example, some theorists attribute the reported increase in relaxed feelings while outdoors to increased body motion. Other scientists think that fractal shapes like those found in nature trigger the release of neurochemicals which aid in relaxation. The reality is that science has not yet come to a conclusion as to why nature seems to induce positive effects in the human brain and psyche. Still, Louv and other advocates believe that the natural environment can be as valuable to health as any vitamin known to man.
Over time Louv has published several thoughtful reasons why he believes that people of all ages can benefit from spending more time in natural settings. For starters, he believes that the fast pace of our high-tech world is reason enough to ditch technology (temporarily!) and embrace the natural environment. He makes it a point to emphasize that humans have a right to engage with both nature and technology, albeit in balanced ways that sustain our humanity. He also cites scientific evidence that nature can be a powerful part of the healing process. Researchers have found that patients who convalesced in rooms with a view of trees (versus buildings) had shorter stays, fewer requests for pain medicine, and fewer negative comments in staffing notes.
Additionally, Swedish researchers discovered that exposure to nature may decrease depression and enhance well-being. The findings come from a study of joggers who exercised in an urban versus a nature setting whereby those in the latter reported feeling more restored and less angry, depressed or anxious. Louv also points out that interacting within a natural setting can increase levels of community bonds. He cites a University of Rochester study which found that neurochemicals and hormones linked to social bonding increase during animal-human interactions. The authors of the study also found that contact with nature led subjects to value community and be more charitable financially.
Vitamin N in Application
Data that shows that nature can strengthen community bonds has led many groups to initiate outdoor programs as a means of boosting positive bonding through outdoor activity. In one instance, individuals in the U.K. have taken to forming green gyms. Such gyms can be found anywhere hospitable green space can be used for walking, hiking, gardening or exercising with others. If you’d like to participate in a nature club in your area but can’t find one, create one!
If you think you’d like a career that emphasizes the natural world, there are many paths beyond the traditional park ranger. You can become a biophilic architect who designs green buildings with an emphasis on well-being, a landscaper who specializes in native, drought-resistant plants, or a nature therapist—the possibilities are almost endless. Do you have enough Vitamin N in your life? Thinkers like Aristotle and Louv remind us that making a connection with the natural world around us, even in photographs, can boost our spirit and lift our mood. A walk in the woods or a look up at the stars can be an exhilarating experience, no matter what frame of mind we’re in.
Lifelong recovery is possible: all you need to do is reach out. Starbent Recovery was founded on the belief that people suffering from addictive disorders, trauma, and other co-occurring issues can thrive in the right environment. Our professional, dedicated staff have the understanding, experience, and compassion necessary to support each resident’s clinical treatment team goals. We offer individualized tier level programs and guidance with residents’ personal recovery and independent living goals. Our safe, peer residence offers luxury amenities and is located in the heart of upscale Tribeca close to multiple subway lines and surrounded by trendy dining and shopping. To learn more about our premier women’s recovery residence, call us at (800) 673-0176.