July 20


Can Technology Override The Health Benefits of Nature?

By Staff Writer

July 20, 2013

health benefits of nature, technology and health

Have you seen the studies about the health benefits of nature, including how  being in nature helps our brains?

Vitamin G is now a term that is widely used to refer to the “medicinal” influence of Green spaces (hence the “G”) – a term started by Dr. Peter P. Groenewegen, a Dutch health scientist.

Books like “Your Brain on Nature,” by Dr. Eva Selhub and Alan C. Logan N.D., help to consolidate all the information out there about how much being in nature helps our health.

In the introduction to the book, the authors present some of the health issues resulting from nature deprivation:

Less contact with nature, particularly in one’s young years, appears to remove a layer of protection against psychological stress and opportunity for cognitive rejuvenation. Japanese research suggests also that nature deprivation may have wide-ranging effects on the immune system.  In the big picture, our turn away from nature is associated with less empathy and attraction to nature and, in turn, less interest in environmental efforts related to nature.

In contrast, some of the health benefits of nature include:

  • Increased Creativity
  • Better Memory and Attention Span
  • Elevated Mood
  • Reduced Depression
  • Higher Self-Esteem
  • Lower Blood Pressure, resting heart rate and cortisol (a stress hormone)

Spending time in nature is just GOOD for us!

And along comes technology… Technology provides many benefits, but it does have its dark side.

Dr. Larry Rosen recently published a great article in Psychology Today about how technology influences our lives.

You can hardly go anywhere these days without seeing people hooked up to their devices. Looking around the gates at every airport you find people on their computers, texting on their phones, playing video games. People rarely seem to want to just sit and be idle.

OK, so the airport example is probably a bad one, it makes sense that people would be spending that time trying to catch up with someone or get a little work done – many of these people are traveling on business and it is in the middle of their workday. Some of this behavior seems to hold true, though, even when they are in a beautiful place, when they are surrounded by nature.

I live in the Rocky Mountains, and it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet! Going for a walk this week, I noticed that several people were texting while they were walking, or talking on their phones. At least they WERE out walking! But the magnificent beauty of the mountains surrounding us seemed to be lost on them.

In his article, Dr. Rosen’s speculated about people out for a hike, seemingly only interested in viewing the scenery through the camera on their smartphone. Many of the people that he observed – and I have seen this same thing while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park – didn’t even take time to take in the vistas through their eyes. Rather they went straight to the “Kodak opportunities,” snapped their photos, and went on their way.

Does this limit the benefits  that our brains get by taking a break to be in nature?

A recent study out of Scotland by a group of researchers that had been studying the impacts of green spaces on cognition showed that walking through the green belts lessened brain fatigue and frustration. These people, however, were not walking with their electronic leashes.

Would the benefits of being in nature (Dr. Rosen talks about this in his latest book, iDisorder, calling it Attention Restoration Theory)  that are obtained by interaction with a natural environment be negated by their mobile phones?

It is an interesting question and one worth studying.

Dr. Rosen’s article on Psychology Today can be found at Is It Live Or Is It Memorex.

In the meantime, for the health of your body and your brain, be sure to take technology breaks from time to time, and get out into nature more! And really consider leaving that smartphone in your pocket!

About the author

Our staff writers come from various backgrounds in the neuroscience, personal development, brain science and psychology fields. Many started out as with us as contributors!

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