As the Green Revolution gives rise to non-polluting, environmentally sustainable industries such as clean energy, green building, and organic farming, so, too, it is furthering advancements in medicine and eldercare. “Nature therapy” and “horticulture therapy” have gained ground as natural approaches to health and healing. Have you considered how nature can directly affect your health?
A Room with a View
Despite being used for healing for thousands of years, nature-based therapies have gained significant attention only in the past several decades. In the 1980s, research conducted by Dr. Roger Ulrich, a leading environmental healthcare architect, revealed that hospital patients who were exposed to views of nature had shorter hospitalizations than those with views of brick.
Around the same time, mental health professionals began to research Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a common type of depression related to the change of seasons, and identified light therapy as the treatment. Since that time, hospitals and rehabilitation centers have been using nature-assisted therapies to help patients with an array of issues from physical to mental.
Nature therapy involves reconnecting with wild animals and plants. According to a 2006 article in the British Journal of General Practice, nature-assisted therapies “tackle the obesity epidemic, prevent bullying, reduce attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and improve concentration, self-discipline and self-esteem.”
Nature therapy and farming are also used to help many individuals including veterans recovering in hospitals and children with learning deficiencies. Programs usually involve sensory experience such as touch and sounds of nature. Listening to bird songs, for example, was found to help a veteran suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, horticultural therapy helps to reduce depression and improve memory, cognitive abilities, and socialization. People also experience improved dexterity as they get their hands in the soil.
Researchers have also found that gardening helps to improve mood and self-esteem. The New York University School of Medicine, for example, found that patients undergoing cardiopulmonary rehabilitation who participated in a horticultural therapy program experienced reduced blood pressure and elevated moods.
Senior living communities have started to integrate therapeutic horticulture into their programs. In addition to the wellness benefits, residents enjoy a new sense of purpose while nurturing their gardens and growing life.
Medicine for the Soul
As Northwesterners, we are regaled with lush scenery by simply setting foot outside. If your needs change or you simply move into a new home, consider how you can integrate Mother Nature into your life. Is there natural sunlight and windows with views of nature? Can you garden throughout the year — either indoors or outdoors? Is there easy access to fresh air and safe paths?
You can promote your wellness through the benevolence of Mother Earth — a resource that has been available since the dawn of time. In the words of Luther Burbank, the famous horticulturalist after whom Mercer Island’s park is named, “Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul.”
Orla Concannon is the founder of Eldergrow, an innovative indoor garden company focused on helping older adults experience the benefits of therapeutic horticulture. She founded Eldergrow as part of her Healthcare Leadership Executive MBA Capstone for Seattle University. Eldergrow is now serving communities in Puget Sound and has expanded nationally. For more information visit eldergrow.org.