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Connecting Canadians with Nature

Key Message

Research confirms that deepening our relationship with the natural world has tremendous personal benefits that ripple positively out to every facet of society.

Source

Parks Canada. (2014). Connecting Canadians with Nature — An Investment in the Well-Being of our Citizens. Ottawa, ON: Parks Canada. 36 pp.

Purpose

This document synthesizes the growing body of international scientific research that suggests personal contact with nature can mitigate many of the ill effects of modern life. It explains the changes in the country’s social fabric that are leading Canadians away from the outdoors. It also outlines the personal and societal benefits of connecting with the natural environment, from local green spaces to protected public lands.

This document adds a coordinated and strategic voice to a growing constituency of organizations from around the world calling on action to connect people with nature. Connecting Canadians with nature requires a fundamental shift in how nature is perceived in our modern world. We hope that this document inspires practitioners and professionals to see the power of nature in their respective disciplines and sectors, and to take action to reverse current trends. 

Evidence

Benefit of connecting with nature: 

For our economy

A key driver for domestic and international tourism in Canada is the natural environment, generating economic activity in rural and urban communities from coast to coast to coast. Nature-based tourism creates a diversity of jobs for a range of sectors (e.g., transportation, accommodations, retail, attractions, and guiding), generates tax revenues for governments at all levels, and contrib utes to the health of local and regional economies, and the national economy as a whole. Visitors to parks for example make a direct contribution to Canada’s economy. A recent study found they supported more than 64,000 full-time jobs, generated $2.9 billion in labour income, and $337 million in tax revenue for governments. 

For our health

A growing base of empirical evidence demonstrates that contact with nature offers powerful benefits for people’s health. There have been a number of important findings proving that natural experiences help heal us. People exposed to nature recover from surgery faster, require fewer medications, and have shorter overall hospital stays. A two-hour walk in the woods is enough to improve sleep quality and help mitigate sleep problems. Prison inmates whose cells look out onto natural features rather than into a courtyard are sick less often. 

Contact with nature has been found to lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, help mitigate disease, and reduce stress levels. Viewing natural images while exercising has been shown to reduce blood pressure by nine per cent compared to viewing images of the built environment. Blood pressure, pulse rates, and stress hormone levels have been shown to improve after walks in outdoor environments, including forests, parks and other green spaces, and viewing natural elements rather than built features. Time spent outdoors may also help mitigate cancer. Emerging work from Japan found that a three-day stay in a large intact forest increased participants’ natural cancer-fighting proteins and cell activity linked to tumour reduction.

For our spirit and identity

Modern studies in a range of disciplines have all come to the same conclusion: nature offers something spiritual that is good for the soul. In nature, we can experience wonder, joy, thrill, and satisfaction all in a single hike in the woods. Aesthetics of the natural world, particularly those provided by mountains, deserts, waterfalls, forests and oceans have been shown to inspire episodes of ultimate happiness and spiritual fulfillment. The more natural the environ ment the more restorative power it has. The heightened sensory awareness acquired through contact with nature, especially wilderness, is associated with ‘peak experiences’ — where people lose themselves in the wonder and awe of the moment.

For our personal development

A multitude of studies have shown that playing in natural environments is essential to our children’s development of core skills, including observation, problem-solving and reasoning, categorization, creativity, imagination, risk-identification, along with emotional and intellectual development. Our current screen-dependent culture is interfering with natural human dev elopment. Children’s biological affiliation with nature gives them a better sense of what they can do and control, makes them happier, and makes learning fun. Children that are not allowed to experience risk will, in turn, have less ability to identify and manage risks in every aspect of their life as they age. 

For our communities

Nature plays a pivotal role in nurturing relationships by bringing people together. Many studies have demonstrated that nature makes us happy and more generous. It improves our mood and elicits feelings of pleasure. The ‘feel-good’ factor facilitated by nature influences our relationships with others. Urban residents living near natural environments tend to know more of their neighbours, feel a stronger sense of belonging to the community, and have a more positive view of their neighbourhood. Neighbourhoods with parks in a major US city reported higher levels of mutual trust and willingness to help one another than their counterparts living in neighbourhoods without parks. Community gardens, trails, outdoor running clubs are emerging in communities as a way to bring families and neighbours together. Nature brings out more social feelings, more value for community and nurtures close relationships among neighbours.

For our environment

Research confirms that a meaningful adult connection with the natural world develops in early childhood. Interviews with thousands of adults concluded that  their environmental attitudes and relationship with nature were developed as a child, usually by age 11. Children who engage in nature-based activities such as gardening, visiting parks, outdoor learning, and unstructured outdoor play were more likely to appreciate and protect nature as they get older. Children with this upbringing are more likely to seek ways to overcome barriers that prevent them from engaging with nature as an adult.

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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