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Book Review: The Nature Fix

Posted by Loren D at May 12, 2017 09:14 AM |
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When you step out on a favorite trail, you know, on some level, that the experience is good for you. With journalistic vigor and wry humor, Florence Williams tackles the science behind these feelings in “The Nature Fix.” (And, it turns out, you've been right all along.)

When you step out on a favorite trail—leaves crunching underfoot, birds singing in the trees above you—you know, on some level, that the experience is good for you. We hikers love to sing the praises of our favorite pastime to anyone who will listen. Hiking is how we relax, decompress, unplug, connect, restore something lost in our day-to-day. We have the sense that the beauty, the act of spending our precious time in nature, works some special brand of magic on us.

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“We think of nature as a luxury, not a necessity. We don’t recognize how much it elevates us, both personally and politically. That, ultimately, is the aspiration of this book: to fi nd the best science behind our nature-primed neurons and to share it. Without this knowledge, we may not ever fully honor our deep, cranial connection to natural landscapes.” Florence Williams

With journalistic vigor and wry humor, Florence Williams tackles the science behind these feelings in The Nature Fix. And, it turns out, we've been right all along.

The Nature Fix covers a lot of ground, scientifically, geographically and politically. Williams takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the research looking into the effect of nature on human wellness. She zooms us from the Utah desert to the laboratories and forests of Japan, Korea and Finland. She takes us rambling over the green hills of Scotland and under the green tree canopies of Singapore.

And it's more than scenery that makes the ride an enjoyable one: Williams’ clear-eyed journalism, curious inquiry and deft writing make The Nature Fix a tantalizing survey of the science that shows the increasingly vital connection between nature and the health of our minds and bodies.

In an era when public lands in the United States have been chronically underfunded, it’s especially fascinating to learn how the research is influencing public policy in other countries. Japan and Korea, driven by the wellness research, are pouring resources into their national forests as sanctuaries and centers of healing. Park rangers are trained (and are helping advance the research) on nature and human wellness. Scotland has added access to nature as a new national indicator for health.

If all of that sounds too wonky, it’s not.

William’s investigation is eminently readable and relatable. She plumbs our senses and how nature works on them. How does a walk in the woods instead of a city stroll work to lower our blood pressure or elevate our mood? (Hint: You might just be smelling the trees.) How does bird song improve our mood or, conversely, airplane traffic at night disrupt our sleeping brains over years? And, Williams wonders, how much nature is enough to do the trick? Can we live in cities (or prisons) and still reap the emerging benefits of nature? Does virtual reality hold the key, or does it need to be the real thing?

The questions she explores are fascinating for those of us who are already getting outside. How does more time spent in nature affect us? Can it make us healthier? More creative? More generous with others?

Read the book. It will fire up your curiosity about how the natural world you’re hiking—the trees, the birds and even the shape of a trail—is working very specific and peculiar magic on you. It will make you want to get outside even more than you already do and, it turns out, that’s really good for you.

This article originally appeared in the May+June 2017 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.