Published in the Toronto Star – December 3, 2016
I have only been hospitalized once in my adult life. I spent a couple of days in Toronto East General (now the Michael Garron Hospital) three and a half years ago recovering from radical prostate surgery. It was the first time as an adult that I had the experience of hospitalization and I understand now why so many people just want to go home. Perhaps, with a measure of luck, there are windows at home.
There was a window in my hospital room, I have to admit. It looked out over a bank of air conditioners that whirred on end and if I looked over the horizon of the HVAC units I could see a street lined with trees. There was one tree that stood out for me, not for any particular reason except that it was big enough for me to see from a distance. It’s dominance of the horizon impressed me and I focused on it as I struggled with the pain of a substantial incision. I would look at that tree and reflect on the time I would spend appreciating trees more deeply when I was released.
Plants = shorter hospital stays
It turns out that I am not unique in this regard. In the early 1980’s a researcher visited a hospital in Pennsylvania and gathered information about patients who had undergone gallbladder surgery. In those days a gall bladder patient would need a week to two weeks recovery in the hospital. According to Adam Alter, the hospital had views of a brick wall on one side and on the other, a view of a stand of trees. Other than that, the rooms were identical. “How did patients recover, relative to their physical location?” researchers asked.
You are likely way ahead of me on this and already have guessed that the view of the trees produced positive results. Those who looked out onto the brick wall needed, on average, a full day more to recover.
Consider the math on this and let us assume that each of the patients stayed for a full two weeks. The ‘brick wall’ patients stayed for one extra day. 14 days vs. 15 = 7% longer.
The study goes on to reveal that, by some measures, patients who gazed out at a natural scene were four times better off than those who faced a wall.
Since this study took place at Paoli Memorial Hospital myriad other studies have proven the same basic principle: we NEED nature. She heals us and helps us to focus.
Kids and Plants
Where kids are concerned, a whole new genre of study and thinking has emerged that supports the concept of ‘free-range kids’. If you visit the website by the same name (www.freerangekids.com) you will discover a whole new world to bring up your kids… or grandkids. The contributor, Lenore Skenazy, believes that kids are safer and smarter than our culture gives them credit for. In her business as a ‘super nanny’ she advises parents on her innovative methods of child rearing.
In a recent post on Lenore’s website, a Georgia mom posted that three police officers knocked on her door: a neighbour had reported that a four and a half year old was playing in the park behind her house – a park that is an extension of her back yard. “We bought our home FOR the back yard and access to the park.” exclaimed Kim, the blogging mom. The person who made the call was legitimately concerned for the safety and well being of the child and accused the mom of being negligent.
The question that begs asking is, “At what point are we best to let kids explore nature unfettered by adult intervention?” I, for one, do not have the answer. But I do know that kids need the experience of discovering the wonders that only nature can bring.
I am not advocating for irresponsible parenting. I am merely pointing out that there are benefits to letting kids explore the world outside of four walls and away from computers and without limiting interventions by adults.
When I am old and not able to get places under my own power, I hope that someone will wheel me down to the front door of the senior’s home to catch a bus to a nearby forest. The Japanese have been doing this for generations and it is a growing trend today. Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, requires patients to walk or just sit in a densely wooded forest for extended periods of time. Compared to people who walk through urban areas, forest bathers experience lower blood pressure, lower pulse rates and lower cortisol levels, a marker for reduced stress.
Experiences with Mother Nature do not provide the perfect upbringing for kids, a process for aging or for hospital recovery periods. But she sure can help.