My work as a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon means I spend long hours in the glare of fluorescent lighting, with no windows to the outside world. It’s a high-stress environment whether I’m operating, on ward rounds or having consultations in the clinic where all the decisions I make can have a profound and life-changing effect on my patients. I am surrounded by technology and I’m constantly contactable; there is an incessant background noise of bleeps, buzzes and tapping from machines, phones and keyboards. I imagine it is the same in many professional environments. Coupled with this, the days are long, the available food is exactly what we tell our patients NOT to eat, and the opportunities for exercise are limited. We operate in an atmosphere of scarcity, with limited resources and expanding demands, always trying to do more with less, and squeeze a little more goodwill out of every member of staff.
So yesterday was a well deserved break from this life to step into something more wholesome. It came on the day when school children across the UK and around the world took to the streets to protest against the damage being done to planet Earth by climate change, something that is emerging as of significant importance to my 13 year old son.
My wife and I had returned from savouring exactly what the youth marches were trying to save, the glorious natural world. We had spent 5 hours hiking through the splendour of the South Downs via the Long Man at Wilmington taking in the sights, sounds and smells of rural England in the spring. The vivid yellow of the fields full of oilseed rape, the joy of watching this year’s lambs chasing after their mothers through lush green fields, the smell of freshly mown grass and the absence of air and road traffic noise, just the calls of pheasants and wood pigeons. We were getting what Florence Williams entitles our “nature fix.”
Last night, though exhausted we were invigorated and revived; we also slept like logs. The benefits were not just physical from the exercise, there is a growing body of evidence that time spent away from artificial light, away from computer or device screens, and away from man-made noise, out in the open air can all be beneficial to levels of stress by exposing us to the environment we are best adapted to. In evolutionary terms, we have not changed dramatically as a species since we were hunting and gathering 10,000 years ago. We are still hardwired for this.
So while the protesters on yesterday’s march are right to campaign to save our planet in order to prevent our species and all others from extinction, I would argue that there may be an even more personal and pertinent reason to want to save our planet now rather than preserving it for future generations. We need Mother Earth, she is the balm to sooth our fevered, 21st Century, stressed out brows. She is the antidote to our overwhelming, artificial world. She is our medicine cabinet. And just what the doctor ordered.
July 19 - 21, join us in the South Downs for a three day nature fix. We will measure your heart rate variability and blood pressure upon arrival and on departure to demonstrate the improvements in our physiology that can occur with ‘the three day effect’ of being in nature.