RANDOM ACTS OF WILDNESS Something else to think about for 2017. Author Aleisha Fetters wrote an article for MyFitnessPal.com’s blog Hello Healthy, “How Getting Out in Nature Can Improve Your Health”. In it she cites the findings of a recent research study in PLoS ONE, the results of a systematic review of the literature, articles in several scientific journals, and the opinions of an evolutionary biologist and a therapist with regard to the benefits of exercising out of doors. She does a wonderful job of discussing the topic which fired me up to get outside as soon as I could manage it.
The full PLos ONE 2016 scientific article. “30 Days Wild: Development and Evaluation of a Large-Scale Nature Engagement Campaign to Improve Well-Being” by Miles Richardson and colleagues is available online through the provided link. As with much of scientific research the takeaway message seems straightforward and simplified but the details reveal the complexity of pre-study assumptions, questions asked, methods and data collection, analyses, and conclusions. Regardless of the quality of the research, which matters if we wish to accept any study’s results and conclusions (see NOTE below for more comment) runners can learn something from this effort.
Essentially the interested powers behind the UK study (pro-nature and pro-conservation NGO’s) felt that if people spent more time interacting with nature they would place a higher value on it and an increased valuation would be translated into pro-conservation behavior. Devising and testing a method to accomplish this would of course benefit the NGO’s as well as human beings and ‘nature’.
The research plan was to mount a campaign, called 30 Days Wild, and ask participants to get outdoors every single day during one of the nicest weather months of the year in that part of the world (may explain why The Championships at Wimbledon tennis tournament is played in late June- early July). The objective was to” encourage people to make more time for nature in their lives and thus value nature more highly”.
Those who enrolled were told they could do their own thing, but also given a list of 101 suggestions, named Random Acts of Wildness, to help bring the wilderness into their experiences. The campaign focused attention on incorporating nature into ‘everyday’ urban activities, which might enhance commuting routines and ordinary work and home lives.
Participants were surveyed on their level of happiness and health, connection to nature, and conservation behaviors before and after the 30 day effort and then 2 months later. The data showed that sustained increases in these characteristics were noted in the responding participants. The researchers concluded that “with the improvement in health being predicted by the improvement in happiness, this relationship was mediated by the change in connection to nature”.
If being outdoors and interacting with nature more may enhance our health and sense of well-being, here are a few questions we runners/walkers might ask to assess our personal situation in this regard:
Winter time may seem like the least desirable season to take this challenge. However, these weeks of darkness and cold and wet weather are possibly the time we MOST NEED to receive a boost in feelings of happiness. The joy or awe that might come with discovering an element of natural beauty in dreary surroundings could be heightened by the contrast. Our phone cameras can record close encounters of the ‘green” kind for longer term enjoyment.
As you mentally plan for 2017, think about committing to a ‘30 Days Wild’ challenge. I plan to use my Earned Runs bib to record my '30'; excited to place more emphasis on interacting with nature and make good use of my phone.
NOTE: for those interested, here’s more detail on the 2016 research paper, “30 Days Wild: Development and Evaluation of a Large-Scale Nature Engagement Campaign to Improve Well-Being” by Miles Richardson and colleagues.
This research was performed in the UK due to a perceived need to “increase people’s engagement with and connection to nature” because this activity was believed to not only to be good for humans but for nature (conservation) in return.
The objective was to” encourage people to make more time for nature in their lives and thus value nature more highly”. The focus was on” everyday nature, e.g., suggesting that people convert a walk to the bus stop into a walk with wildlife.”
A call-to-action campaign was developed by the WILDLIFE TRUSTS (a group of 34 pro-nature conservation organizations), to attract online volunteers who would ‘engage nature’ every day for a month (June 2015). The study hoped to detect increases in participant health and well-being, and pro-nature behaviors and environmental awareness, brought about by their greater interaction with nature.
The mass engagement campaign encouraged volunteers to be creative and self-directed in designing their own nature interactions but also supplied them with 101 suggested ‘everyday’ activities called ‘Random Acts of Wildness’.
There was no process to check/monitor participation activity. An evaluation was developed to test and measure “happiness, general health, nature connection, and conservation behaviors” in the self-selected study subjects. It was performed at three time points (pre- and post- the 30-day period, and at 2months follow-up).
Of 12,400 persons who enrolled online, 344 completed the pre- and post- evaluations, 269 the pre- and follow-up, and 126 completed all 3 evaluations. In the group of respondents women outnumbered men by about 7:1, age ranged from 18-80 years (mean age 41.7 to 43.5 years). The was no other demographic information.
One question each was used to measure happiness (0-10 scale), health (excellent-poor, 5-point scale), and nature connection (degree of overlap between self and nature ‘circles’). Five questions were used to measure conservation behaviors.
The results of data analyses, as summarized in the abstract, showed that sustained increases in these characteristics were noted in ‘samples’ of participants (those who completed any 2 or more surveys), and concluded that “with the improvement in health being predicted by the improvement in happiness, this relationship was mediated by the change in connection to nature”.
[The 0-10 happiness score mean increased from ~7.24 pre-participation to 7.76 post-participation to ~7.87 at follow-up after 2 months in 126 respondents. The 5-point health score mean increased from 3.56 to 3.78 to 3.83 in the same group]
BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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