WE ARE VERY MIXED UP. WE ARE PRO­GRAMMED TO BE PER­FECT HUNTER-GATH­ER­ERS. YET WE LIVE IN­DOORS AND TRAVEL BY CAR.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wildlife Essay -

of green­ery. There is also less bul­ly­ing in play­grounds that fea­ture trees and shrubs rather than just man-made struc­tures.

Chil­dren in­stinc­tively ex­plore na­ture and con­nect with it with ease, but for many of them op­por­tu­ni­ties to be in the wild have al­most van­ished be­cause their roam­ing area has re­duced by 95 per cent over the past 40 years. In­deed most chil­dren in de­vel­oped coun­tries such as Bri­tain are now con­fined in­doors or to con­trolled out­door en­vi­ron­ments such as sports pitches. This is a real prob­lem, since the build­ing blocks of chil­dren’s de­vel­op­ment are en­hanced by con­tact with na­ture – and af­ter they reach 12 years old, it’s al­most too late. This cause was taken up by the Amer­i­can writer Richard Louv, who coined the phrase Na­ture Deficit Dis­or­der in his sem­i­nal 2005 book Last Child in the Woods.

The ben­e­fits of re­duc­ing stress are not to be sneezed at. Chronic stress can lead to diabetes, obe­sity, de­pres­sion, de­men­tia and heart dis­ease in two dis­tinct ways. First, when we are stressed we change our be­hav­iour: we start to crave sugar and fat, we feel too tired to ex­er­cise and we may even take up smok­ing or drink more al­co­hol. Stud­ies show that the more green­ery there is in a neigh­bour­hood, the health­ier peo­ple are, with no­tice­ably less obe­sity and higher rates of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity – even tak­ing into ac­count dif­fer­ences in so­cial class. In one study chil­dren who lived near a park were found to be an av­er­age of 6kg lighter than sim­i­lar chil­dren liv­ing far­ther away, be­cause they were more ac­tive and less stressed.

The sec­ond way that stress af­fects us is more direct. The hor­mone cor­ti­sol is re­leased when we are stressed, which causes toxic fat to be laid down in our stom­achs, and can also make our old friends the mi­to­chon­dria mal­func­tion.

Th­ese pow­er­houses in our cells give off dan­ger­ous free rad­i­cals (un­sta­ble atoms or groups of atoms) if we con­sume too many calo­ries through overeat­ing, or if we al­low them to charge up but don’t use them through in­ac­tiv­ity. Both of th­ese sce­nar­ios are wors­ened by stress, while too much

Au­gust 2015

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