From 2006 to 2010, the percentage of young children regularly engaging in outdoor recreation fell by roughly 15 percentage points.
This shift is occurring even as scientists outline the mental benefits of spending time in natural settings. According to the latest research, untamed landscapes have a restorative effect, calming our frazzled nerves and refreshing the tired cortex. After a brief exposure to the outdoors, people are more creative, happier and better able to focus. If there were a pill that delivered these same results, we’d all be popping it.
What this research suggests, however, is that we need to make time to escape from everyone else, to explore those parts of the world that weren’t designed for us.
Or stated differently, we need to explore the parts of the world for which we have evolved. Early humans cut their teeth on the challenges of the natural world, so it makes perfect sense that our minds are sharpest and most creative when we are immersed in wilderness. The question is, in an increasingly urbanized and networked world, how do we maintain that connection? As Lehrer suggests, wilderness retreats are one way, but they’re just not possible for everyone. What we need to do is bring more wilderness to us.
How? Plant trees. Set aside more and larger parks. Give people better views out their windows. Those are all good places to start. But more important, I think we need to fundamentally reconsider how we incorporate nature into urban spaces.