The human brain was forged over millions of years in a natural laboratory. Our brilliance as a species is forever, and intimately linked with our natural environment.
Three major principles drive my views on health and happiness:
- When we understand our evolutionary context and our “natural design”, we do the right things to and for our body, and are inevitably healthy and happy.
- We are natural beings, closely integrated into a vast ecosystem of animals, vegetables and minerals. When we isolate ourselves from these, we put our wellbeing at substantial risk.
- The human brain is our greatest asset, differentiating us from all other life forms. This critical organ plays a massive role in our health and happiness, vastly outweighing its relatively tiny presence (it comprises only 2% of our adult weight).
Given this framework, I was intrigued to find the book Your Brain on Nature by Selhub and Logan.
Eva Selhub is an allopathic doctor—a fancy name for a traditional Western physician. Alan Logan is a naturopathic doctor—a profession that focuses on the body’s ability to “self-heal” using natural processes and substances. They have combined their expertise to produce a thorough overview of our current scientific knowledge on the impact of the natural environment on our human brains.
The authors cover a wide range of evidence for the benefit of nature on our mental and emotional health. They describe the value of greenspace (sometimes dubbed “Vitamin G”), and bluespace in great detail. They outline more delicate influences of the many invisible chemicals and aromas (known as phytoncides) on our cognitive and emotional functioning. In my favorite chapter, they propose that “green exercise is like exercise squared”. Finally, they describe several different therapeutic processes that harness the power of nature … such as aromatherapy, gardening and “wilderness therapy”, pet ownership, and brain food (although the reader looking for detailed insight into the multitude of natural supplements available today might be a little disappointed).
Selhub and Logan offer an additional bonus on their website in a 55-page list of all the published scientific literature that they referenced in writing the book.
I have a single, substantial difference of opinion with the authors. They consider the tools of our digital era, particularly computers and mobile technology, to be brain enemy #1. They blame the technology itself for our destructive modern lifestyle. Although the decline in our physical and emotional health and social performance (including empathy and relational health) has coincided with technological progress, I do not agree that email, TV or cellphones themselves are evil. None of them inherently oppose nature.
Instead, it is our choices that have driven us away from our natural origins. We are responsible for our own problems, and the unique challenge of our generation is to find a way to harness these tremendous technological advances, while retaining the benefits of an intimate connection with our natural environment.
I recommend Your Brain on Nature to WHealthSeekers interested in the vast and growing body of science proving nature’s benefit on our health and happiness, in particular it’s magnificent role in optimizing the performance of our remarkable brain.