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A Happy and Healthy New Year

Where I live in Amherst, I am fortunate to have green space nearby. It is a familiar small town suburban community with the historic downtown of brick and sandstone buildings on the edge between big city sprawl and farmland. I can walk out my door and enjoy some green open space withing minutes. It is a calm, low stress existence. My native landscape surrounds my house on this little quarter acre lot giving me endless opportunities to revel in the details of invertebrate wildlife.

Perched Viceroy Butterfly
Viceroy Butterfly

We also are recipients of the benefits from a rich and diverse landscape. It has been known or suspected for decades, if not centuries, that green space is good for us. When New York City’s Central Park was first conceived, just after the Civil War, many argued that it was a waste of space on an island with a rapidly growing economy and population. Today there is broad consensus both in the popular and scientific realm that such spaces are beneficial and necessary.

Green spaces of all dimensions and proportions revitalize a person in all known dimensions, psychological, social, spiritual, and physical. Research now confirms that green spaces in cities positively affect such diverse medical responses as healing, reduced hypertension, and fewer cases of diabetes. Green spaces contribute to coping with stress, improved learning capacity, social cohesion, self-esteem and sometimes, reduced criminal activity.

It should not surprise anyone who knows that the human species evolved in nature, that we have built in orientation and responses to the natural world. On the most primitive levels, we are more comfortable and better suited to living where nature abounds. In contrast, the geometric, isolated spaces where we work and live may have an inherent level of sustained stress. A national study has shown that children with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have milder symptoms, better concentration and less impulsive behavior when they regularly play in green settings like parks.

There is a growing promotion and practice with pediatricians and other doctors to write “Park Prescriptions”. Here we recognize yet another free, service of nature, that contributes to our health and happiness. Wherever we are, whatever space we may have, greening it with native plants and pollinators is not just about supporting the natural environment that is suffering, but nurturing our own well-being. Add a native greenscape in or around your home as part of your happy and healthy New Year.

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