Connecting with Nature: The Importance of Getting Outside

This blog first published on February 23, 2015, on http://www.cpawsnab.org

GET OUTSIDE! BEAT THE MID-WINTER BLUES BY CONNECTING TO NATURE

It’s the end of February, which means that at this point most of us are tired of slogging through our 4th month of winter – waking up in the dark, bundling ourselves against the elements, and navigating icy roads and sidewalks on the way to work. At this time of year, many of us opt to stay indoors to avoid the cold weather. That might not be such a good strategy if you want to kick those mid-winter blues and blahs. Why? Because science continues to show us that disconnecting from nature leads to unhappiness and mental health issues.

The term “nature deficit-disorder” was coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. As Louv puts it:

“Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished  use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”

There is a strong positive relationship between contact with nature and physical and mental health. Research has shown that those with a high sense of connectedness to nature are happier, and that spending time in natural environments allows for physical and mental restoration. After spending multiple days in natural environments away from technological distractions, people showed a renewed capacity to make executive decisions, and demonstrated increased levels of creativity and problem-solving. People with stronger nature-connectedness report more positive emotions, vitality, enthusiasm, increased attention, and a greater ability to focus on problems at hand. They also experience feelings of renewal, restoration, compatibility, connection, and satisfaction (1).

There are a wealth of opportunities to connect to nature in northern Alberta. 80% of visitors to Alberta parks agreed that their park experiences contributed to multiple dimensions of well-being (2).  What are you waiting for – Get Outside today!

GET OUTSIDE IN THE BEAVER HILLS – IT’S YOUR BACKYARD!

Alberta has some great places for you to Get Outside and start connecting with nature! One of these areas is the Beaver Hills, an area of parks and connected green spaces located about 40 minutes east of the City of Edmonton. The area contains some great national and provincial parks, public recreation areas, and natural areas. From Elk Island National Park, to Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, to the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Public Recreation Area, in the Beaver Hills you can hike, cross-country ski, paddle, or view the stars.

The Beaver Hills Initiative is a group of municipalities, government officials, and non-governmental organizations working together to achieve UNESCO  Biosphere status for the Beaver Hills. A Biosphere is an area designated by UNESCO that demonstrates excellence in the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development practices through people living and working in harmony with nature at a regional scale. If designated, the Beaver Hills would become internationally recognized as a member of a global network of over 600 Biosphere Reserves.

The backbone of a UNESCO Biosphere is a series of legislatively protected areas. However, a major part of the Beaver Hills is not legislatively protected – the Ministik Bird Sanctuary. Although designated as a waterfowl sanctuary, Ministik is governed by the Public Lands Act  in Alberta. Thus, it is potentially pressured by agricultural activity, residential development, or oil and gas activity. It is also subject to irresponsible recreational uses. If the Ministik Bird Sanctuary were legislatively designated as an Ecological Reserve under the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands Act,  the government of Alberta would be more able to manage recreational uses on the land.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO CONNECT TO NATURE AND HELP PROTECT ALBERTA’S LAND?

For more information:
• Check out the Beaver Hills Initiative’s website
• Check out our website for more information on how you can connect with nature in and around Edmonton!
• Read about Alberta’s Land Use Framework, the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan, and CPAWS’ submissions to the government of Alberta

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(1) Wright, Pamela and Carling Mattews. October 2014. Building a Culture of Conservation: State-of-knowledge report on connecting people to nature in parks. Unpublished.
(2) Lemieux, Christopher J., Sean T. Doherty, Paul F.J. Eagles, Joyce Gould, Glen T. Hvenegaard, Elizabeth (Lisa) Nisbet and Mark W. Groulx. 2015. Healthy Outside-Healthy Inside: the human health and well-being benefits of Alberta’s protected areas – towards a benefits-based management agenda. Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (CCEA)

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