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Published on April 26, 2019

Learn about the healing power of nature

The evidence is overwhelming that being outdoors is good for us. More than 485 published studies show a connection between time in nature and improved health, according to an article in the May issue of Outside magazine.

On May 9, the Cape Cod community can learn more about this association.

“The Healing Power of Nature” will be the focus of a multi-speaker program at 7 p.m. that night at the Morse Pond School in Falmouth. The event, which is free and open to all ages, is co-sponsored by Cape Cod Healthcare, The 300 Committee Land Trust, Falmouth Public Schools, Salt Pond Areas Bird Sanctuaries and The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts.

“Humans are hard-wired to connect with the natural environment and when we don’t connect enough, we are depriving the oxygen – literally and figuratively – that sustains the engine of life in the human body,” said Kumara Sidhartha, MD, MPH, who will be one of the evening’s panelists. Dr. Sidhartha is medical director of the Cape Cod Healthcare Accountable Care Organization (ACO), and the employee health plan.

“Common sense, intuition and, more recently, health research have demonstrated that spending time with nature and its biodiversity is vital to enhance our mental, physical and social well-being,” he said. “It is a fundamental prescription to enrich human health in all its dimensions.”

The evening will begin with a talk by Rand Wentworth, the Louis Bacon Senior Fellow in Environmental Leadership at the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and president emeritus of the Land Trust Alliance, a national conservation organization based in Washington, D.C.

A nationally recognized conservationist, Wentworth will draw on evidence-based research to discuss how time in nature improves physical health, positive emotions and cognitive development.

After Wentworth’s talk, he will take part in a panel discussion moderated by Susan Moran, chair of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen. Also on the panel will be Dr. Sidhartha, Mark Robinson, executive director of The Compact for Cape Cod Conservation Trusts; Gary Simpson, PsyD, pediatric neuropsychologist with Falmouth Public Schools; and Tarum Gonneea, a Falmouth Academy high school student who is interested in environmental science.

Focus on the Next Generation

“We want the next generation of our community to spend more time away from screens,” said Katharine Taylor, executive director of the Salt Pond Areas Bird Sanctuaries. “Being outside more often and getting unplugged is good for their mental well-being.”

Much of The 300 Committee’s messaging is around the environmental benefits of land conservation, according to Jessica K. Whritenour, executive director of the group.

“As a land trust, the medical benefit and emotional benefits are not something we, as conservationists, have been focusing on. We really liked the idea of blending together those aspects. We hope the evening will help inspire people to enjoy and conserve nature close to home,” she said.

Wentworth is expected to share research that proves that there is health and wellness benefits seen in nature, said Lucy Helfrich, director of program services for The 300 Committee.

“I think people who spend time outside just get it, but there are other people who maybe need the research to help persuade them to spend time in nature,” she said.

Among the studies supporting time spent in nature is one published recently in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research. Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that spending 20 minutes in an urban park will make you happier, whether you’re exercising or just sitting and enjoying the scenery.

Looking for ideas on good places to explore?

Whritenour enjoys walking the trails at Teaticket Park with her young son. Taylor recommends the trails behind Bourne Farm and along The Knob (near Quissett Harbor). Helfrich said Long Pond in Falmouth is one of her favorite places.

You also can more about enjoying the outdoors through the Healthy Parks, Healthy People program, a partnership between Cape Cod Healthcare and Cape Cod National Seashore.