As Opal School’s Outdoor Education Specialist, I am lucky enough to spend lots of time outside every day. I believe that fresh air and time outside on trails helps me stay healthy. Science seems to confirm that belief.
In The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, Florence Williams studies the connection between nature and our health, happiness, and creative thinking. She highlights a study in Japan on the effects of nature on the mood and immune system. In that study, Qing Li looked at the number of natural killer cells (a type of white blood cells that help destroy virus infected cells) in the blood of the participants of his study.
For three days, the subjects of the study spent a couple of hours each morning hiking. By the end, blood tests showed their natural killer cells had increased 40 percent. Moreover, the boost lasted for seven days. A month later, their natural killer count was still 15 percent higher than when they started. In contrast, during urban walking trips of the same duration, the levels didn’t change.
At Opal School, we are incredibly fortunate to have woodlands right outside our door. Children spend time out there every day. I wish I could say that they don’t get sick. They get sick all of the time. In fact, it is rare to have a day when every child in a class I’m with is present. Still, I would be interested to know if Opal School students get sick less often than students who spend less time in nature.
I’m not suggesting that a walk in the woods will solve all of our problems. We still need to limit our contact with people outside our family, avoid group gatherings, and wash our hands a lot. We need to follow the guidelines set by the CDC, of course. But maybe we also need to make it a priority to get outside and hike, with the recommended six feet of social distance. So far, I haven’t heard any recommendations to the contrary.
Nature won’t save us from coronavirus. But the coronavirus might reconnect us with nature – which reconnects us with ourselves.