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The Restorative Power of the Outdoors Is Undeniable

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Given nature’s health benefits, why not make it part of routine care?

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

In my mid-20s, I undertook the quintessentially Australian rite of passage of moving to London for a few years. Months into my first English winter, I started having dreams about the Australian wilderness.

The images were so vivid and specific that I jotted them down. I had a recurring dream about looking at the sea from a high vantage point, somewhere along the south-east Queensland coast that I had always taken for granted. There was “all manner of ocean life”, I noted: dolphins jumping in the shallows; two whales, a mother and calf, out in deeper water.

“Got really excited about seeing my first wild platypus,” I wrote about another dream, still never having spotted one in real life.

I had never considered myself a particularly outdoorsy person, but London’s occasional urban grimness had triggered a nostalgia for the natural environment of my childhood. When I returned home, it was with a newfound appreciation for the soft evening chirp of cicadas, the fine sand that sticks to everything and the mist of humpbacks on the horizon.

As the pandemic has highlighted, I am not alone in desiring more time in nature when access to it is limited. The restorative effects of spending time in green spaces, it turns out, may be essential for our health and wellbeing.

“Research shows that over time we’ve become more disconnected as humans from nature,” Prof Thomas Astell-Burt, a population health expert at the University of Wollongong, tells me. A 2017 study, for example, found that pop culture references to nature—in fiction, song lyrics and film storylines—have declined since the 1950s. “It might reflect that we as a society have become much more inward focused on our urban consumerist lifestyles,” Astell-Burt says.

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