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