Perhaps you have experienced one of open space’s great values……….
When you enter a natural place, you get a sense of calm, a feeling you are one with your surroundings. The peace of nature creeps into your mind, wafts over your muscles and soothes your nerves.
I believe open space can be good for the soul. When we walk through a wide-open meadow, a pine-covered ridge, or a path through a forest and away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, instinctively we know that open spaces are good therapy.
But now there is scientific evidence to back up this feeling many of us have experienced.
National Geographic, with its January edition, begins a yearlong celebration of the formation of the National Park Service one hundred years ago.
Its first article examines research that shows that exposure to nature, whether a national park, a stretch of open space across the valley, or that garden in your back yard, can do good things to your state of mind and the condition of your body.
Several studies have measured the brain’s response to exposure to nature and open spaces. One study showed that after three days in the wilderness Outward Bound participants performed fifty percent better on creative problems. Another showed that forest walks could decrease stress hormones by as much as sixteen percent.
Two studies in England showed that just living near open space, even if you don’t use it, can reduce mental stress and create a lower incidence of fifteen diseases, including depression, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and migraines.
Researchers have no hard evidence of what make this happen, but they suspect nature can lower the stress level in people and improve a wide variety of physical and mental conditions. They have found that people with good views of trees and grass recover faster in hospitals, perform better in school and are less violent than those who don’t.
In various places around the world, cited in the National Geographic article, doctors are advised to prescribe open space visits to patients, public health policies include nature experiences, and “healing forests” are a regular part of life.
So, there’s a lot more than just saving a tree-lined ridge for the view, or a meadow for the wildlife habitat, or a stream valley for the preservation of water quality.
Saving open space is good for the mind and body and creates a more beautiful and healthy community.
Richard Bang was born in Northern Montana and raised on a dry-land farm in a family of seven children. He attended a one-room school house through eighth grade and graduated from Inverness High School. He received a BA in journalism from the University of Montana and spent about 30 years working for newspapers of all sizes. He moved to Colorado in 1981 and worked on the Douglas County News-Press in Castle Rock between 1986 and 2000. He retired in 2010 and now spends his time working for non-profits, writing novels, traveling and riding his bicycle.
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