Don's Jersey Birding: Want a Healthier Life? Go Birding!


Getting out and enjoying nature has many health benefits.
Photo courtesy of Meadow Blog


By Don Torino

After having a wonderful Nature Walk at Teaneck Creek Conservancy on New Years day, my family and I were traveling along Route 17 on our way to visit family and passed a jam packed Paramus shopping mall. It seemed everyone in New Jersey, except for us, was participating in the New Jersey national pastime, “Malling”. A sudden gloom came over me after viewing the lines of cars waiting to get a chance to go into a depressing, deceptive, and disinfected place to try and enjoy the day off from work. Is this the way people now celebrate our holidays by going shopping? I am all for stimulating the economy but I hope in my heart the before visiting the virtual reality of a shopping mall folks at least spent a little time together connecting with each other and visiting the genuine reality of our natural world.

All of us who go birding and love and appreciate nature know how a day in the field makes us feel.  Connecting with nature invigorates us, puts life in perspective and makes it a little easier for us to cope with the day to day pressures of life. And as for me, I can get pretty darn crabby if I don’t get outside often enough (just ask my wife). But I wondered, was there any scientific evidence that walking natures trails and enjoying a day with the birds and bees could have any scientifically documented healthful effects on us? Well, as it turns out there is lots of it. As far as the healthy physical results, there is a study that shows spending more time in nature might have some astounding health paybacks. In a series of studies, scientists found that when people spend a few hours in nature’s surroundings they experience amplified immune function.

Reducing stress is one reason, but scientists think it could bephytoncides; the airborne chemicals that plants emit to protect them from rotting and insects and which also seem to help humans. One study scientists found that communing with nature created “lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure". A number of other studies have shown that visiting parks and forests seems to raise levels of white blood cells.

Being out in nature can have many positive psychological effects also. A variety of studies over many years have shown faster recovery from stress. Also decreased mental fatigue, restored mental clarity, increased sense of well-being, focusing, sensory awareness, and mindfulness. Even for someone recovering from surgery in a hospital room with a more natural view from a window promotes health.

It maybe just me but going to overcrowded malls and fighting for a parking space doesn’t do much to relieve any stress I may have suffered this day or makes me feel better in any way, even if I do manage to find a bargainor two.


"Spending time outdoors helps us think better, it calms our mind and body" -  Elise Cole-Clinical social worker and Psychotherapist.
Photo by MC Malzone

My good birding friend Elise Cole, who also happens to be a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist with a private practice in East Rutherford backs up my belief that everyone should spend time outdoors.

“Spending the day at the mall has become the weekend thing to do for many families.  These mega shopping centers have become the way families spend time with each other. Sadly, however, spending the day together for many families, involves mom and dad depositing their children in the movie theatre at the mall, while they enjoy lunch or dinner somewhere else in the mall. This “mall culture” is about anything but family connection, with many families thinking they don’t have the time to “waste” by spending time outdoors. Consumerism is dominating the lives of many families these days, creating loneliness, alienation, and emotional and financial insecurity. What’s more, we’re becoming more and more disconnected from nature, and each other.  The constant bombardment of noise, pulsating music in stores, and artificial climate and lighting in malls overloads the attention part of our brains, dulling thinking and concentration."

"Children and teenagers, especially, are negatively influenced by artificial settings. They are missing out on building family and social cohesion by regularly spending time together in nature. There is solid research demonstrating that spending time outdoors helps children, teens, and adults think better. It calms our mind and body, helping us concentrate better and pay attention for longer periods of time. Spending time outside for children, is essential, increasing their self-esteem and resiliency, improving school performance, social skills, and giving them a dose of valuable nutrients, including vitamin D, from daylight. By tuning into a calmer environment, children’s brains actually relax, and they’re able to use their senses, body movement, and emotional intuition to learn and play. Walking in a park, on a trail, through town, on a beach, or even simply in a backyard, the benefits from watching the birds, squirrels, bugs, and clouds is staggering. It teaches children a sense of connection to the earth. It’s an opportunity for families to talk about and experience the cyclical nature of life, by discussing the changing seasons, watching plants and trees go through natural life cycles, experiencing growth and change in nature."

"Families need to put their hands in dirt and walk in grass or on uneven terrain to connect more with the natural world. Encouraging empathy toward birds and other creatures in nature nurtures children’s souls and benefits society as a whole. Changing our thinking, and understanding and accepting the emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits of observing and being a part of nature and wildlife is essential to living a meaningful life.  Connecting with each other regularly, outside of the mall, in nature, is to experience joy and wonderment together, cementing the familial bonds that keep us healthy and happy. So nourish your soul and your children’s souls: Take a walk, jump up and down outside, find and name 3 different kinds of birds on your walk, plant a butterfly bush in your backyard, or just lie on your backs in the grass and w6patch the sky float by!”


We can embrace nature and love it and make it part of the beauty of being alive.
P
hoto courtesy of Jeff Nicol

Nature is the only reality. We belong to it and we are still part of it, we can choose to ignore it and suffer for it by leading disconnected and having much less healthier lives or we can embrace it and love it and make it part of the beauty of being alive.

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