Our ancestors were deeply connected to their natural environment, mostly because their survival depended on it. With no Whole Foods available, those who could best track a mammoth, find water, and forage for edible plants kept themselves alive and passed on their genes. Given our history as hunter-gatherers, it’s no wonder contact with nature provides us with several health benefits. AMEMORY BOOST In a University of Michigan study, a group of students were asked to take a memory test that involved repeating numbers back to researchers. Next, researchers separated the students into two groups. Group A took a walk around an arboretum and Group B walked along busy city streets. Afterward, they were asked to take the memory test again. Group A, the students who had walked in the arboretum, performed 20 percent better on the memory test. Group B didn’t show any marked improvement. Additional research has corroborated the memory-enhancing effects of nature. AMOOD BOOST Observing the benefits nature has for cognitive function, scientists wondered what effects it might have on individuals diagnosed with depression. In one study from the University of Essex, participants with major depressive disorder reported an improvement in self-esteem and mood after spending time in nature. Exercising while in nature resulted in even more of a mood boost for participants. A WALK IN THE WOODS IS THE PRESCRIPTION
A CALMING EFFECT Research also shows that spending time in nature reduces stress. In a study conducted by Chiba University in Japan, participants spent two nights in the forest. Researchers evaluated their levels of stress hormones during and after this period and compared it to their normal work days in the city. Across the board, participants’ stress levels were much lower during the days spent in the forest and for several days afterward. Today, we’re less connected to our natural environment than our ancestors were. Modern comforts and technology mean we don’t have to go outside to get our food. But nature is still accessible and you don’t have to go far to find it. In many of the studies, even minor exposure to the outdoors, like adding plants to your home or looking out a window during work, showed health benefits. This winter, find ways to bring a little more nature into your life each day. Your brain will thank you.
TIME TO PICK UP A NEW HOBBY! February Marks National Bird-Feeding Month
Just when the cold winter weather seems like it might never let up, the first signs of spring appear in the form of your favorite feathery friends returning to your yard. Depending on both the species and the weather, many wild birds return to their hunting grounds as early as February to mate, lay eggs, and begin the long preparation for the next journey south. Unfortunately, the birds that return in February often face a difficult time due to the temperatures and lack of available food. Feeding Month when he read a resolution into the Congressional Record. He said, “Feeding wild birds in the backyard is an easy hobby to start and need not overtax the family budget.” He predicted that backyard bird feeding would provide both parents and kids an entertaining, educational, and For this reason, on Feb. 23, 1994, John Porter proclaimed February as National Bird-
inexpensive pastime and a much needed break from today’s frantic lifestyles — all while helping the wild bird population. Porter was exactly right! In the years since his proclamation, organizations and families all over the world have enjoyed the peace and relaxation afforded by watching the birds, as well as the educational aspect of pinpointing different species. To that end, here are three tips for keeping these winter birds happy: FEEDERS You can attract multiple types of feathered friends to your backyard by buying specific types of feeders. Different birds prefer different feeders, and certain feeders are made for a specific type of feed. HEATED WATER This February, add a heated bird bath or fountain to your yard. This will provide an essential resource to
your feathered friends, and you will likely attract more birds, as they gather in areas where they can find reliable food, shelter, and water. COUNT BIRDS During National Bird- Feeding Month each February, the National Audubon Society coordinates the Great Backyard Bird Count. Birders from around the world count their flying friends to help gather data online. Scientists then use this data to create an online citizen science project and gain a better understanding of bird migrations, populations, and any fluctuations year over year. And it’s free for participants!
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