Habitus is working to promote access to nature as an integral part of community health and education strategies.   Many community-based organizations are leading ground-up initiatives to better calibrate our daily dose of nature.  Whether it’s Parkbus, a grassroots enterprise working to overcome mobility barriers to reaching great Canadian landscapes, or Park People, a group pumping the heart of city parks to boost social support networks and inoculate against isolation, the phenomenon of feeling better after gathering in green spaces is well understood by many communities.

Milkweed Seed Launch (2015)

Milkweed Seed Launch (2015)

Scientific evidence supports what communities already know. The landmark work of Kaplan and Kaplan on the psychological benefits of experiencing nature (Kaplan & Talbot, 1983) and the experimental research of Ulrich (1984) on the influence of green space on hospital patient recovery, sparked the growth and maturation of decades of research. A generation later, research links time in nature with improved wellbeing and cognitive development as well as reduced stress, anxiety, depression and learning challenges, particularly for children (see our recent piece on the benefits of nature to children’s health for the Friends of the Green Belt Foundation).

Despite growing research and community initiatives,  the formal incorporation of nature into health and education programming is still a novel concept.   We are hoping to change that through our continued commitment to knowledge sharing and capacity building.

As part of the advisory committee of MoodWalks for Youth in Transition lead by the Canadian Mental Health Association (in partnership with Hike Ontario and Conservation Ontario), we were able to support the development and launch of an innovative youth-led program that provides training and support for community mental health agencies, social service organizations and other community partners who promote time in nature to improve physical and mental health. We also joined the UOIT Futures Forum: The Future of Community Mental Health and Wellness to demonstrate novel research and strategies for including nature in community health and education programs.  Emphasizing both the positive and negative aspects of the built environment, we explored how health practitioners and educators can develop nature programs to nurture the mental, cognitive and physical well-being of children and adults.

BC Centre for Disease Control (2016)

BC Centre for Disease Control (2016)

We are also working to promote the expansion of connected urban green spaces to help confront the health risks associated with extreme heat and air pollution. We joined Ecohealth Ontario at the Ontario Climate Change Symposium, Just Transformations: The Next 150 to share evidence on how green spaces help to cool and clean city air. Health inequities are a main theme of our work, particularly the need for a comprehensive approach to community health that addresses the unequal distribution of urban green spaces (see our work for the BC Centre of Disease Control).

Moving forward, we are developing a series of training programs for educators including a dialogue with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority on the health benefits of nature and how to work with communities to ensure all neighbourhoods have inclusive, equitable access to green spaces, that reflect their unique needs and priorities. We are also developing interactive workshops to explore children’s feelings about nature and ways to spark connections to nature.

These and other efforts add to our growing support for organizations to build knowledge, capacity and programs that integrate nature into health and education strategies.  For more information, contact us at info@habitusresearch.ca