En­joy Sin­ga­pore, WHY CON­TACT WITH NA­TURE IS GOOD FOR US Sin­ga­pore may be a high-den­sity ur­ban cen­tre, but it’s also an ex­traor­di­nar­ily green place – there are over 300 parks and four na­ture re­serves within its bor­ders. Tak­ing time out to visit th­ese natu

Expat Living (Singapore) - - Life & Family - BY KIM FOR­RESTER

Our con­nec­tion to na­ture is in­escapable. At a phys­i­cal level, we share the same bi­o­log­i­cal sys­tems, be­hav­iours and most of the ge­netic makeup of our fel­low mam­mals. At a molec­u­lar level, we’re com­prised of six main el­e­ments (from oxy­gen to phos­pho­rous), each of which is sourced from the planet that we live on. The fact is, we are na­ture, and stud­ies show that in­ter­act­ing with nat­u­ral spa­ces on a reg­u­lar ba­sis is in­cred­i­bly ben­e­fi­cial for both our health and longevity.

Since mov­ing to Sin­ga­pore, Karen’s teenage daugh­ter had shown in­creas­ing signs of anx­i­ety. The bustling neigh­bour­hood they lived in ap­peared to be a con­stant source of low-level stress for her, de­spite care­ful pro­fes­sional care. “We lived on a busy road and the only way to have a sense of peace was to close all the win­dows. That would in­stantly leave us feel­ing dis­con­nected from the world and en­trapped in a man-made cube. It just seemed to me that our en­vi­ron­ment was un­der­min­ing any progress we were mak­ing in terms of my daugh­ter’s men­tal health,” Karen says.

Even­tu­ally, the fam­ily de­cided to move to a more re­mote lo­ca­tion within a forested area of the is­land. The ef­fect on Karen’s daugh­ter was pos­i­tive – and sur­pris­ingly swift. “Within weeks her state of mind im­proved dra­mat­i­cally,” Karen says. “One day, she came home par­tic­u­larly tense and anx­ious – usu­ally the pre­cur­sor of a very dis­tress­ing evening. But this day, she dis­ap­peared for an hour and re­turned in a calm and peace­ful mood. She in­formed me she had been in the for­est ‘med­i­tat­ing’ un­der a ba­nana tree.”

Re­cent stud­ies have shown that the closer we live to na­ture, the more in­clined we are to main­tain strong men­tal health. For in­stance, a se­ries of Swedish stud­ies con­firmed that city dwellers are around 75 per­cent more sus­cep­ti­ble to psy­chosis and up to 20 per­cent more likely to de­velop de­pres­sion than peo­ple who live in ru­ral ar­eas.

Dutch re­searchers dis­cov­ered that the in­ci­dence of schizophre­nia in city-dwellers is dou­ble the rate of those who live in the coun­try. And last year, a study of more than 108,000 women in the US re­vealed that those with large amounts of green­ery in their neigh­bour­hood were 12 per­cent less likely to die than those with lit­tle or no con­nec­tion to na­ture. The team be­hind this re­port (from the Har­vard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hos­pi­tal) be­lieve that sim­i­lar re­sults would oc­cur if men were in­cluded in the study.

Heal­ing the Dis­con­nec­tion

The past ten thou­sand years have seen a re­mark­able shift in the way hu­mans live, think and view the world. For those in de­vel­oped coun­tries, life bears very lit­tle re­sem­blance to the nat­u­ral rhythms of our no­madic an­ces­tors. Our homes are more elab­o­rate, our tools are more ad­vanced and, in­stead of sea­sons and sun­rises, it’s the clock and cal­en­dar that de­ter­mine our lives.

As we have re­moved our­selves fur­ther and fur­ther from na­ture, we’ve also be­gun to dis­con­nect from our own nat­u­ral needs and yearn­ings; we have come to re­gard our­selves as some­how dis­tinct from – and above – na­ture. Even those who are aware of the neg­a­tive ef­fects of ur­ban liv­ing – stress, men­tal ill­ness, burnout – of­ten turn to syn­thetic or un­nat­u­ral reme­dies. How­ever, as re­search is show­ing us, civil­i­sa­tion does not of­fer us all that we need. In­tel­lec­tual prow­ess and ma­te­rial suc­cess are not the an­swer to well­be­ing and con­tent­ment.

In or­der to be com­pletely ful­filled we, as hu­mans, must ac­knowl­edge our in­stinc­tive needs and de­sires and re-es­tab­lish a re­la­tion­ship with the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment around us. Join a Botanic Gar­dens walk­ing group, or a moun­tain bik­ing group at Bukit Timah, or a clean-up cam­paign in one of the na­ture re­serves. En­sure you pick an ac­tiv­ity that you’ll en­joy – be­ing in na­ture is the cherry on top.

Whether you’re drawn to fol­low the ot­ter fam­i­lies of Sungei Bu­loh or fly­ing foxes of Pu­lau Ubin, cul­ti­vat­ing an in­ter­est in the wildlife of Sin­ga­pore will not only draw you into na­ture – it will help you be more “present” while you are there. Make your dis­cov­er­ies part of your “Sin­ga­pore story” for friends and fam­ily back home.

Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the im­pact of hav­ing na­ture in your home – pot­ted plants, un­fil­tered sun­shine and pets are a great way to ful­fil nat­u­ral in­stincts and needs.

Be­ing Nat­u­rally You

Take a mo­ment to ap­pre­ci­ate the de­sign of your amaz­ing body, made – quite lit­er­ally – of the Earth. Gift your­self days with­out the clock; per­mit your­self to act purely on nat­u­ral instinct and de­sire. Qui­eten your mind and slow down your pace; ob­serve how na­ture is un­hur­ried and un­per­turbed.

“Re­cent stud­ies have shown that the closer we live to na­ture, the more in­clined we are to main­tain strong men­tal health”

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