WWB Wise Guru Q&A Series: Newly Released Book ‘The Nature Fix’ Presents Cutting Edge Science on How Nature Affects our Health & Well-Being from a World Wise Perspective…

Mar 15, 2017 by

NatureFix_2 with frame.jpgWWB Wise Guru: Florence Williams is an American journalist and nonfiction author whose work focuses on the environment, health and science. She is a contributing editor at Outside magazine and a freelance writer for National Geographic, the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Slate, Mother Jones, High Country News, O-Oprah, W., Bicycling and numerous other publications.

Her first book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in science and technology and the 2013 Audie in general nonfiction. The New York Times named it a notable book of 2012.

She was a Scripps Fellow at the Center of Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado. She is a fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature and a visiting scholar at George Washington University. She serves on the board of nonprofit environmental magazine, High Country News.

WWB Featured Book: ‘The Nature Fix, Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative’ explores the science behind our connection to nature and proposes that for optimal well-being, regular doses of nature are not only recommended but required.

 

Lauroly Opening- I am so honored and pleased Florence Williams could join me for a Q&A. Her book is a favorite of mine, and so glad she wrote it. Perhaps it’s a favorite because it speaks to me on a very personal level. Nature has always been my fix, without a doubt. Having said this, I never classified myself as ‘Nature Girl’. I didn’t camp as a kid and I didn’t hike until my 20’s. But being outside and playing in nature was always a big part of my life experience. I can thank my Dad for that. I have this in common with the author! I only saw him on weekends growing up, and every weekend, weather permitted, we were either horseback riding in the woods, walking in the woods, or rowing a boat on a lake next to the woods. Those early experiences and the need to be outdoors has never left me. I like the term Florence used in the book, “drinking the tonic of nature.”I wrote a piece for this very blog on Nature Therapy in 2015 and briefly discussed ‘Forest Bathing’ in Japan which she covers quite extensively in the book. Later in my life, traveling for business, I would always make a point to find a Public Garden no matter where I was, so I could reconnect with nature and myself. Reading ‘The Nature Fix’ confirmed what I have had always felt intuitively about nature…I’m a part of it and it’s a part of me.

Besides my personal connection to the topic of your book, I found it to be the perfect non-fiction book. It is well researched, highly informative and very entertaining as well. I love how she takes us through the research via her own personal travel. Her travel takes us to Japan, Korea, Singapore, Finland, Sweden, Scotland, and we learn a lot about their cultures and wellness philosophies. Florence packed so much into this book, I found myself really challenged about where to start. I remind myself that I do these Q&A’s to recommend books and motivate people to go and read the books. I hope to touch on some of the many important findings in this book…

 

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Lauroly Q- Welcome Florence Williams! So if everyone hasn’t heard yet, nature is good for civilization!  What you set out to do is to find the science to support why nature is so important to our humanity and our everyday well-being. To do that we need to understand our senses and how much of how we function is synced with nature.  It seems to me that when we are out in nature we are fully alive, because many of our senses are engaged in our experience. This explains to me personally why I am generally happier when I am outside. There is an enlightening chapter where you focus on a man in Sweden who experienced a personal tragedy and later came to understand how important nature therapy is to patients with depression. Yet like everything else with humans, the dose of nature varies from human to human.  What do we know so far about nature as therapy? Tell us more…

 

 

 

flopromoBarrOutdoorFlorence Williams: Yes, Lauroly, you are exactly right that it does seem to be the full-sensory experience that awakens our sense of well-being, and that there are many studies that support this idea. But the science is still young, and many of the studies are very small. It’s actually quite difficult for scientists to tease apart exactly which elements of nature are most helpful or which senses are most engaged. I was struck by the studies in Japan, led by Japanese anthropologist Yoshifumi Miyazaki, that measured physiological changes to the nervous system after just 20 minutes of being in the woods. These studies showed a 20-minute stroll on a forest trail can reduce your blood pressure an average 11 percent and lower your cortisol hormones (a measure of stress) by six percent. Perhaps because of the practice of forest bathing in Japan, people there are attuned to using all their senses in the woods – so they’re really paying attention to what they’re smelling and feeling and hearing and seeing. It seems that shortcut to mindfulness really helps us feel calmer and relaxed more quickly when we’re out in nature.
 

Lauroly Q– Glad you started with Japan. We can’t discuss your book without talking about ‘ Shinren Yoku (Forest Bathing)’. What is it about the Japanese culture, that has them embracing Forest Bathing so fervently that it has become part of their national healthcare policy? When you asked Miyazaki why nature is so important to their culture, he had this to say, “In our culture, nature is part of our minds and bodies and philosophy. In our tradition, all things are relative to something else.” Loved his answer. But it is amazing how the Japanese ended up being so far removed from the very thing that defined them isn’t it?

Florence Williams: Japan industrialized very quickly. The cities grew fast and there was intense economic competition for good jobs, good schooling and feeding the corporate culture. People are stressed out there, and they work and study incredibly long hours, effectively removing them from a lot of time in the countryside. But it would be mistake to say that modern life has disconnected them from nature. The Japanese still internalize a close connection to plants, for example, in their practices of bonsai and flower arranging, in their tiny gardens and through their lens of wabi sabi, which celebrates the seasons and simple nature. I think in many ways the Japanese definition of nature is more generous that the western one, which looks at spaces like parks and wilderness areas, rather than integrating elements of the natural world into everyday life and homes. That said, the Japanese do seem to relish getting outside when they can. As a result of Miyazaki’s data, the country has designated 48 “forest therapy” trails where overworked, urban citizens are now urged to go unwind, and it looks like more trails are being created.

Lauroly Q- One of the things I was wondering about while reading about your research in Finland, is related to Vitamin D (sun) and the deprivation they experience in winter. Have any researchers looked at how tree therapy might counteract the negative effects of not having enough sun? This is a good time to tell us about why Cypress Trees seem to have such a positive effect on our senses. As you put it, in the book “we enjoy a neural bath of happy hormones”! Below is a quick video you created to illustrate the beneficial effects of nature…

 

Florence Williams: Trees are certainly magical and wonderful, and hit a lot of our happy buttons, from providing rich visuals, especially fractal patterns (known to promote alpha brainwaves) to creating habitat for birds that in turn relax us with their birdsong. The smell piece is fascinating, as tree aerosols from cypress trees in Japan were found to lower blood pressure and increase Killer T immune cells in humans. That said, even in Finland and even in winter, being outside provides more brightness and full-spectrum light than being inside, and so the light aspect is still important. Full spectrum light is linked to wellbeing, and vitamin D is linked to all sorts of good things, from shaping our retinas to strengthening our bones. The lumens outside is generally 10 times greater than the lumens inside, except of course at night. Even the darkness, though, can help reset our circadian rhythms so we sleep better.

Lauroly Q- As a psychology major I found a lot of the research on education, and brain disorders like ADHD fascinating with respect to nature. Besides the specific special needs of children on the spectrum, your book explores the idea that children in general really need nature and play. I loved the section on Friedrich Frobel and his research. He focused on cultivating curiosity and freedom in childhood. Tell us how ‘kindergarten’ was originally conceptualized, and how nature was at the center of child education…

Florence Williams: Friedrich Froebel, who was born in Germany in 1782, was an educator heavily influenced by Rousseau, who said, “Everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Author of Nature.” Rousseau and Froebel both made a case for allowing young children to explore and learn based on their own curiosity. Froebel believed that an education filled with nature and art could instill a lifelong readiness to learn and also develop empathy and a love for living things. He really invented kindergarten, and it was nature-based from the beginning. Unfortunately, many cultures now consider kindergarten the new first-grade, and are taking children inside to sit at desks and learn their academics. We are not devoting enough time to considering what has been lost in this new model.

Lauroly Closing: I hope we don’t lose that model. Cultures change, but we don’t have to lose the wisdom that has already been acquired, especially when it comes to child development. Thank you Florence for joining me at World Wise Beauty, to discuss your important and wonderful book. I am going to make it my personal duty to share this book with everyone! I know they will love it and your research will resonate for them. I believe we are realizing nature is not a luxury but an absolute essential to our personal wellness, our humanity and our culture. See you out there Florence!

Florence Williams Closing: Thanks so much for your interest, Lauroly. It was so much fun reporting and writing this book, and it’s certainly made me spend more time outside. I will hope it will influence others as well.

 

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The WWB “Skinny” on the Best 10 Cities for your Skin…

Feb 4, 2013 by

World Wise Beauty Trendscapes

 

Location, Location, Location was the opening for this info-graphic (below) presented by Everyday Health.  But I would like to change the narrative and story to Culture, Culture, Culture!  My immediate thought was the top 10 won’t be sunny cities! But that wasn’t the case at all when you drill into the findings.  So rather than have you click through another video-gram I thought I would give you the real “skinny” on why these cities were selected as the best 10 cities for ideal skin health.  Here is the WWB wise takeaway… maybe it is not so much the location of your city but the ” wellness culture” of your city that really matters to your well-being.
Truly Herself,  Lauroly

 

 

  1. Portand,Oregon Why yes they don’t get a plethora of sunshine but here is the real reason they are top rated.
  2. Portlanders know exactly what to do in terms of health and skin. In general, they eat healthy, they exercise, and they are savvy about protecting their skin from the sun. The data supports this: Portlanders are less likely to be smokers or have suffered a sunburn in the past year than most of the US population.
  3. San Francisco,California— Sure it’s frequently foggy but more importantly…
  4. The city has the lowest number of tanning beds per capita in the US. The runner-up best city for your skin also has a near-perfect record of skin-healthy attributes: low skin-cancer death rate, high density of dermatologists per capita, an active population, and zero ozone days.
  5. Seattle,Washington– The climate is also an obvious big factor BUT not so fast…
  6. There’s a high number of institutions that teach integrative medicine, good nutrition, and holistic health, and their influence may make people more health-conscious,
  7. Baltimore, Maryland– Sorry it is not the nutrients in the crab cakes!
  8. This East Coast city has one of the lowest incidences of melanoma in the country. Baltimore also has access to nearby health-care resources, such as Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, which may attribute to the low skin-cancer death rate. Both centers care for patients and conduct cutting-edge clinical trials on advanced-stage skin-cancer patients, which would likely lower this rate.
  9. Chicago, Illinois– Short Summer days for sure! But …there is also something called “defense”!
  10. The city has five great universities that train a lot of good dermatologists.
  11. Honolulu, Hawaii– I say their beauty secrets are in the water but actually…
  12. People who live in Hawaii are physically active, with 33.9 percent of adults engaging in vigorous physical activity for more than 20 minutes three times a week; for a state known for its natural beauty, that’s hardly a surprise.
  13. Boston, Massachusetts– What’s their secret with all the harsh weather they have?
  14. Boston ranked seventh on the list because it contains the highest number of dermatologists per capita. The city is a hotbed of clinical research in dermatology. But people here are pretty active and live a healthy lifestyle. Generally, healthy people have healthy skin because the skin is a reflection of your overall well-being.
  15. New York, New York– Could it be all the plastic surgeons in a one block radius? I kid!
  16. The Big Apple is noted for having one of the lowest incidences of skin cancer in the country, and thanks to smoking bans, the most recent of which prohibited smoking in public parks and beaches,  New Yorkers have skin that’s that much more protected. The city also boasts a high density of dermatologists.
  17. Milwaukee, Wisconsin– Well I am stumped here! Can’t be the cheese?
  18. The decline of heavy industry and manufacturing has helped lessen the pollution that used to harm the city’s air quality. “Milwaukee’s particle-pollution levels are lower than in many other parts of the country.  Another plus? The city is on the shores of Lake Michigan and surrounded by nature, which makes it easy for one of the most physically active populations in the country to engage in outdoor recreation.
  19. Austin, Texas– Another surprise!
  20. Although this city receives more than 300 days of sunshine a year, Austinites are a health-conscious bunch who know how to take care of their skin. According to the Census Bureau, the city has the most physically active population in the US, with 36.5 percent of adults engaging in vigorous physical activity for more than 20 minutes three times a week. People here are outdoorsy, athletic, and into being healthy!


 

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