The secret to becoming healthier, happier and more productive

| October 15, 2015

You can improve your memory and mental wellbeing without a pill, simply by spending more time in nature. Ben Bambery from Doctors for the Environment Australia says we need to start caring for the environment if we expect it to care for us.

What if I told you that apart from eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, there was something else you could easily do to enhance your health, safeguard your psychological wellbeing, and improve your cognitive function and working memory?

If a pill existed that claimed to produce those kinds of results, you’d be sceptical but you’d buy it, right? Or at least you’d think about buying it.

These health benefits don’t come in a pill but the good news is that they’re very real; they cost nothing; and they have no nasty side effects.

Scientific research is increasingly providing us with strong empirical grounds to support the generally held intuition that getting outside and closer to nature is good for our health. Indeed, from the food we grow out of the earth to the water we drink from the sky to the vitamin D we get from the sun shining on our skin, it is clear that our health is inextricably linked with the vitality of the world around us.

Recent research conducted at Stanford University suggests that by walking in nature we can diminish blood flow to areas of the brain associated with rumination and negative thinking and also improve our subjective experiences of mood and mental wellbeing.

What’s more, research has shown that exposing study participants to natural, rather than urban, environments can significantly improve working memory, suggesting that we may well be able to live healthier, happier, and more productively simply by exposing ourselves to ‘green spaces’ more regularly.

This gives us all, as human beings interested in our own health and the health of others, an incredibly strong imperative to promote environmental sustainability more so than we are currently doing.

Health professionals are integral to spreading this important message and could do more. We are scientifically literate. We utilise the best available evidence to improve community health. And polls consistently find that the public trusts us.

To raise awareness of this interplay between the environment and our health, I will be running a full marathon in the Melbourne Marathon Festival for Doctors for the Environment Australia. DEA is a not-for-profit organisation of doctors who are passionate about promoting a healthy planet for healthy people; a message I think we can all get behind.

Our team of around 50 doctors and their friends and family are also running to highlight the health risks that inaction on climate change poses.

The scientific health community (WHO, Lancet, BMJ, AMA) warns that global warming is the biggest threat to human health that we currently face.

Tackling climate change has a number of major benefits above and beyond stabilizing our climate. The switch from fossil fuels to renewables will mean less pollution and illness such as heart and lung diseases and cancer, all of which kill millions of people around the world each year. Ditching the car to walk, cycle and use public transport will cut obesity rates, cardiovascular diseases and also increase community connectedness.

The DEA Team and I are looking forward to running alongside some beautiful natural parks and gardens as part of the course route (decreasing blood flow to those nasty ruminating parts of our brains) this Sunday, and to getting some physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing benefits.

We also aim to spread the message that everyone can enjoy nature and all the benefits it gives us. And that it behooves us all to care for the environment around us if we expect it to care for us.

You can support Team DEA raise awareness about the link between health and the environment here.