The idea that nature can restore health is age-old but how does it work? Recent advances in neuroscience and other scientific disciplines are revealing how nature influences everything from our minds to our micro-biome.
Dr. Tierney Thys is a National Geographic Explorer, biologist, filmmaker and just about the most fascinating conversationalist we’ve met. In her keynote speech at ILTM North America, she will explore some of nature’s hidden powers and share how well-being programmes can light the way to a brighter future for humanity and all biodiversity.
When did your love of nature start?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love being outdoors exploring the natural world. When I was two, if you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said “OUTDOORS”. I was born in California, in the SF Bay Area and my parents would take me and my sisters to the beaches of Santa Cruz on the weekends when we were little. We’d go rafting and hiking during the holidays. Later I moved to a tiny town in Vermont and lived next to a beautiful brook where I spent many hours having fish nibble on my toes and watching dragonflies.
This love of biology fueled my research interests in college where I had the chance to visit Catalina Island and conduct research in the kelp forests, do internships for the Smithsonian in the Chesapeake Bay and also explore Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. All these experiences whetted my desire to pursue marine sciences in graduate school and for my career.
Why is nature so important to our well-being?
Our species evolved through intimate and inextricable relationships with the nonhuman world. The natural world, the wilderness, is deeply embedded in who we are as a species. We naturally affiliate with other forms of life. To separate ourselves from the natural world and live strictly within the confines of our built environments places us in peril of losing a large part of our identity, and with it, our mental sanity and physical health.
Americans spend 90% of their time indoors. What three tips would you give to city dwellers and office workers to change this?
All of us already have a lifelong relationship with the natural world. We need to acknowledge and nurture that hugely vital bond by regularly going outdoors.
Exploring outside, visiting parks, getting the sand or soil under our feet and into our hands, swimming in the sea, smelling the lupin blooming in the mountains, watching clouds skirt across the sky and feeling sunlight on our skin, listening to frogs at night or the dawn chorus of birds at sunrise—all these activities can recalibrate our minds, reignite our deepest joys and remind us what it means to be human; one species on this planet of millions.
We are part of an epic four billion-year-old story of life. We are only here because of all the intrepid fantastic life that came before us and we can only write our next exciting chapter with nature by our side. All lasting, meaningful relationships are built on the premise of love and respect. The forces of nature have graced us with our precious existence. Let’s return the favor. As poet Mary Oliver once wrote, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”
1 / I’ve got two words of advice: get outdoors. Look at your meeting schedule and see if there is a way to shift some of your meetings to happen while you walk together with your office mates in the park.
2 / Bring plants into your office space and take care of them. See if you can grow some food or spices even in a large pot—you’d be surprised what fun that can be. Their silent green living presence does more good than you can imagine and can remind you of the beauty and calming effect of natural organisms.
3 / Try to walk outdoors on your way to and from work. You don’t need to park right next to the entrance of your job. Try parking a couple of blocks away and get in a little walk before you need to be indoors all day. At break time, go outside and walk around too if you can.
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