My name is Amy Wagenfeld, an avowed nature lover. I know that I am at my best when I am able to connect with the green world and look forward to sharing my thoughts with you. By training, I am an occupational therapist who is part of the Boston University post professional OTD program, a role that I deeply cherish.
I am also Principal of a therapeutic consulting business called Amy Wagenfeld|Design (www.amywagenfelddesign.com). In my work as a therapeutic designer, I have the honor and privilege of working with landscape architects and architects to create therapeutic spaces that are grounded in nature. I believe that the synergy between occupational therapy and design professionals is strong and when we work together, the end results most effectively meet the end user’s wants and needs. More on my work, research, writing, and design projects in future blog posts!
In this first post, I would like to introduce you to the concept of biophilia. While biophilia is the foundation of everything we will talk about in Nurture through Nature, in future posts we will look at other theories associated with health and nature, an ever increasing body of research evidence that relate to nature and health, and then explore how all of these theories and research findings are applied to ‘real life.’ For now, back to biophilia, which was first introduced by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (1973) as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive” (pp. 365-366). The concept was then expanded upon by evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life” (Wilson, 1984, p. 85). Biophilia provides an explanation for our desire to connect with nature; that is, humans have an innate, genetic emotional bond to other living organisms (Wilson, 1984). The idea behind the biophilia hypothesis is not only are humans drawn to nature, but that connections to nature are vital for our physiological and psychological wellness. In essence, being in and connecting with nature is calming, restorative, and health promoting. Research, beginning in the 1980’s supports this. The first evidence-based study linking nature to health was conducted by Roger Ulrich. In his work, Dr. Ulrich found that patients recovering from gall bladder surgery required less pain medication and attention from nursing staff and were discharged sooner if their hospital room looked out onto a view of trees as compared to a brick wall (Ulrich, 1984). Pretty impressive findings, don’t you think?
Dr. Ulrich’s study was just the beginning of finding evidence to support what many understand as a self-truth, that when we are connected to nature, in big (hiking) or even small ways (looking at a house plant), we feel better. As we will look into, physiological and mental health wellness benefits associated with biophilic experiences are strongly supported by extensive and ongoing research. They include reduced blood pressure and heart rate, decreased stress, enhanced learning, sensory regulation, attention, focus, creativity, and increased social interaction (Bratman, Daily, Levy, & Gross, 2015; Calogiuri & Hildegunn, 2015; Capaldi, Dopko. & Zelenski, 2014; Hansen, Jones, & Tocchini, 2017; Wang & MacMillan 2013). Conversely, limited exposure to nature is associated with poorer physical and mental health, increased obesity, reduced problem-solving abilities, and lack of social connections (Haluza, Schönbauer, & Cervinka, 2014; White et al., 2019). In future posts, I will dive into these many ways that nature nurtures us. Until then, feel free to leave a comment, and please, carve some biophilia time into your daily life.
Bratman, G. N., Daily, G.C., Levy, B.J., & Gross, J.J. (2015). The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition. Landscape and Urban Planning, 138, 41-50. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005
Calogiuri, G.& Hildegunn, N. (2015). The potential of using exercise in nature as an intervention to enhance exercise behavior: Results from a pilot study. Perceptual & Motor Perceptual & Motor Skills: Exercise & Sport, 121(2), 350-370.
Capaldi, C.A., Dopko, R.L. & Zelenski, J.M. (2014). The relationship between nature connectedness and happiness: A meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5 (976), 1-15. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00976
Fromm, E. (1973). The anatomy of human destructiveness. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Hansen, M.M., Jones, R., & Tocchini, K. (2017). Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing) and nature therapy: A state-of-the-art review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [Internet], 14(8), 851. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14080851
Haluza, D., Schönbauer, R., Cervinka, R. (2014). Green perspectives of public health: A narrative review on the physiological effects of experiencing outdoor nature. International Journal of Environmental Research in Public Health, 11, 5445-5461. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph110505445
Raanaas, R. K., Evensen, K. H., Rich, D., Sjøstrøm, G., & Patil, G. (2011). Benefits of indoor plants on attention capacity in an office setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31, 99–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2010.11.005
Ulrich, R. (1984). Room with a view may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224(4647), 420-421. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.6143402
Wang, D., & MacMillan, T. (2013). The benefits of gardening for older adults: A systematic review, Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 37(2), 153-181. https://doi.org/10.1080/01924788.2013.784942
White, P.M., Alcock, I., Grellier, J., Wheeler, B.W., Hartig, T., Warber, S.L., Bone, A., Depledge, M.H., & Fleming, L.E. (2019). Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Scientific Reports, 9, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3
Wilson, E.O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.