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   We all have moments of stress and illness at various levels of intensity throughout our lives, but how we deal with these instances may change the way we not only perceive our environment but also how we adjust our behavior to situational change. If we make a conscious choice to appreciate the environment, studies show that it may prove beneficial to our health. If institutional entities take steps toward improving the daily environment, outcomes of related situations in such atmospheres will produce an effect of improved healing and coping mechanisms. Such interplay with the natural environment has become less a part of our lives with a greater dependence for technology and convenience.

   Our modern lifestyle oftentimes affords convenience without comfort and yet the majority of us take for granted such effects of landscape, animal companionship, wilderness exposure and the availability of plants. We may do things out of instinct, such as taking a walk in the woods when we are stressed, without understanding the implications of a true emotional need for such activity. Of course exercise is valuable to our health and well-being, but it may not be so simple. It may be even more beneficial to walk outside than work on a treadmill if possible. Subtle changes in environment may have substantial effects upon our abilities to deal with stressful situations, allowing us to achieve greater health.

   Howard Frumkin, a prominent health expert at Emory University, asserts that, in “ the medical world, there are much higher standards than there ever were before. In alternative medicine and in areas like nature contact, we really haven’t had that tradition; we haven’t demanded that kind of evidence. What’s coming together now is a desire for empirical evidence, and the intellectual traditions that provide that evidence.” Frumkin comes to this conclusion from years of extensive research into patient healing time in relation to environment. He cites that a relationship with habitat is essential to life. This is to simply say, people are happier in a comfortable environment.

   Research indicates that 99% of people in retirement communities consider landscaped grounds as important to daily life, 70% of adolescents confide in their pets and 90% of preschool language acquisition and counting tools are based upon animal subjects. Throughout evolution and across the ages, nature defines our existence.

   So now that evidence is available to suggest an obvious pattern of life, the medical community is starting to look at ways of improving a patient’s outcome by incorporating simple techniques such as adding an aquarium to waiting rooms and placing landscape portraits in examination areas. The patients are more relaxed and able to worry less about treatment. It has also been shown as beneficial to own a pet (dogs more so than cats) and to incorporate plants in our homes and work areas, strengthening a connection between humans and nature. Dog ownership alone gave certain heart patients an extra year of lifespan. Pet ownership has been proven to lower blood pressure and cholesterol with no weight, exercise or demographic importance amongst study groups.

   The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published an article by Howard Frumkin in 2000 asserting this connection between humans and nature. Not only does our environment seem to effect our disposition, it may help us in combating daily stressors such as dental visits or in dealing with other more serious situations such as emotional disturbance, bereavement, consequences of rape and incest, cancer treatment and addiction. Situational stressors such as prison detention also show a therapeutic relationship between environment and coping mechanisms. As Frumkin puts it, if “you were stressed, and our ancestors would have been stressed by running away form a saber tooth tiger, and we get stressed by other things, but being out in nature improves our ability to deal with that.”

Article By: Tamara Sullivan

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