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People’s love of nature is both learned and inherited genetically

In the intricate tapestry of human emotions, our love for nature emerges as one of the most heartwarming threads. For ages, poets, writers, and philosophers have romanticized our relationship with the green world.

But the question arises – is this fondness for nature intrinsic or learned? An interesting study by researchers at the University of Gothenburg and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) suggests that it’s a combination of both.

At the heart of this investigation is the concept of biophilia – an idea that people have an instinctual bond with nature. While urban areas often exemplify man’s triumph over nature, the positive impact of trees and green spaces on city dwellers’ well-being is undeniable. Yet, the origins of biophilia have been a matter of debate among scientists.

Historically, some experts contend that our ancestors, having evolved amidst nature, passed down an innate fondness for the environment and deep love of nature. Meanwhile, others believe that childhood encounters and teachings primarily shape this affection.

Love of nature involves many factors

To decode this puzzle, the research team extensively reviewed multiple studies that delved into both our inborn traits and life experiences. Their findings suggest that while both heredity and environment influence an individual’s love for nature, it’s the interplay of myriad factors that dictates its expression.

Professor Bengt Gunnarsson is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science at the University of Gothenburg. He shed light on the findings, stating, “We have been able to establish that many people have an unconscious positive experience of nature.”

Gunnarsson added that the popular biophilia hypothesis needs reevaluation to encompass the variations rooted in the synergy of genetic and environmental factors.

“Nature” takes on different meanings

Highlighting the diverse reactions people exhibit towards nature, a Japanese study found that a stroll in the woods elicited positive emotions in only 65% of participants. In contrast, another environmental psychology study discovered an inherent pull towards nature over urban settings. These feelings were particularly intensified for those who developed a love of nature from a nature-rich upbringing.

Lending a genetic perspective, Bengt cited an intriguing twin study. “An additional study on identical and non-identical twins revealed a genetic aspect influencing an individual’s bond with nature. Yet, environmental factors, too, play a crucial role in molding attitudes towards the green world.”

The research underscores the multifaceted nature of ‘nature’ itself. For some, manicured parks represent an oasis, while others yearn for the raw wilderness. This gamut of preferences, the researchers argue, stems from both our DNA and upbringing.

Maintaining nature’s footprint in urban settings

Marcus Hedblom, a researcher at SLU and co-contributor to the research paper, emphasized the importance of preserving nature’s diversity in urban planning. “We shouldn’t replace wild greenery with a park and assume it will cater to everyone’s green cravings,” he noted.

The transformation of modern cities leans heavily on densification for sustainability. However, this often clashes with the desire to incorporate green spaces.

Research continually underscores the manifold benefits of urban greenery. These range from fostering physical activity to being a sanctuary against stress. Furthermore, trees act as urban lungs, purifying air and offering solace on sweltering days.

Wrapping up the discussion, Bengt acknowledged the potential variance in nature’s appeal among individuals. “There might be a significant chunk of the population indifferent or even aversive to nature due to genetic reasons,” he concluded.

As we look ahead, understanding the intricate dance of genes and environment in shaping our love for nature becomes crucial, especially in creating cities that cater to diverse green preferences.

In the end, nature’s allure is an enchanting blend of our shared human heritage and personal tales. And as we weave the future tapestry of urban landscapes, it’s paramount to let everyone find their unique shade of green.

The health benefits of being outside

Spending time outside, whether it’s in nature, a park, or even just a walk in your neighborhood, offers numerous health benefits for the mind and body. Here are some of the health benefits of spending time outdoors:

Vitamin D exposure

Sunshine is a primary source of Vitamin D, which is essential for bone health, immune system function, and even mood regulation. Just be sure to protect your skin with sunscreen after sufficient exposure.

Improved mental well-being

Nature has been shown to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Even a simple walk in the park can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Enhanced creativity

Time in nature has been linked with improved creative thinking and problem-solving abilities. This is possibly due to the reduced exposure to technology and the calming effects of nature.

Improved concentration

Activities like “forest bathing” (immersing oneself in natural surroundings) have been shown to improve focus and concentration, especially for those with ADHD.

Enhanced immune function

Regular exposure to nature can strengthen the immune system, potentially due to the combination of physical activity, exposure to diverse bacteria in natural environments, and decreased stress levels.

Physical activity

Being outside often involves physical activities like walking, hiking, biking, or playing sports, all of which boost cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and flexibility.

Reduced risk of myopia

Spending time outdoors during childhood has been associated with a reduced risk of developing nearsightedness (myopia).

Improved sleep

Exposure to natural light helps regulate the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, which can lead to better sleep.

Social connection

Outdoor activities often involve interacting with others, which can foster social connections and improve overall mental well-being.

Exposure to negative ions

Areas with moving water, such as waterfalls or beaches, release negative ions. Some studies suggest that exposure to negative ions can improve mood and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Connection to nature

Engaging with nature fosters an appreciation for the environment. This connection can have profound psychological benefits, fostering feelings of belonging and purpose.

Reduction in mental fatigue

Urban environments and technology can be mentally draining. Nature provides a respite from this overstimulation, allowing the mind to refresh and reset.

Improved air quality

Generally, outdoor air (especially in green areas away from urban centers) is cleaner and less polluted than indoor air, promoting better respiratory health.

Reduction in harmful blue light exposure

Spending less time in front of screens reduces exposure to blue light, which has been linked to disruptions in sleep patterns and eye strain.

To fully reap the health benefits of spending time outside, it’s recommended to be active and engage in activities that you enjoy, whether it’s gardening, hiking, or simply taking a leisurely walk.

Also, while the outdoors offers many benefits, always ensure you are protecting yourself from potential risks, like sunburn, insects, or uneven terrain.

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