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The outdoors: Can nature really improve health?

The outdoors: Can nature really improve health?
Children from a science class visit the Pioneer Park Forest Preserve in Naperville in 2002. (Tribune file photo)

What would life be like if we were as immersed in nature as we are in electronics? In

world, we’d be happier and healthier. We’d experience fewer cases of depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder. And we’d build smarter, more sustainable communities.

Ultimately, Louv argues in his new book “The Nature Principle,” the future will belong to those who are “nature-smart": People who reconnect with the outdoors and embrace the transformative power of the natural world. “Humans need to learn about the power of living

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in

nature, not with it,” said Louv.

Still, establishing a mind-body-nature connection is no easy feat. Getting both children and adults out into nature is one thing, but having them enjoy it is quite another. My own kids complained of boredom while hiking a gorgeous mountain trail in

Colorado

. Though they were five and three years old at the time; we ended up carrying them after they melted down and refused to walk.

Meanwhile, not everyone is sold on nature therapy or what Louv calls “vitamin N." In her Brain, Child essay, “

” Martha Nichols questioned whether nature is the only solution -- certainly people can thrive in urban environments -- and cast Louv as a “nature evangelist” and alarmist who shuns all technology. It’s not a crime to enjoy a trip to

New York City

's asphalt jungle rather than the forest primeval, she argued.

“I just don’t believe that wonder can be reduced to one essential experience any more than motherhood can,” wrote Nichols.

But Louv is not calling for us to abandon technology. In his latest book, a follow-up to “Last Child in the Woods” he argues for a new balance. “The ultimate multitasking is to live simultaneously in both the digital and physical world,” he said. “The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need.”

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Citing growing research, Louv says the medical community is increasingly supporting the idea that nature has restorative and healing properties. Across the country, physicians are starting to write park "prescriptions” for their patients, said Louv, who was recently the keynote speaker at the

American Academy of Pediatrics

National Conference. In an effort to fight the high rate of

diabetes

, the city of Sante Fe, N.M. launched its Prescription Trails program, which is partially funded by the

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

.

And last year, a pilot program in Portland, Ore. began pairing physicians with park professionals who record whether outdoor” prescriptions are fulfilled, Louv said. “If we’re going to transform the health care system in the U.S., it will require more than institutional change,” Louv said. “It will demand philosophical evolution that goes beyond what we usually call preventive care."

Louv,

, will be appearing at 7 p.m. on Thursday May 19 at the Skokie School Auditorium, 520 Glendale Ave. in Winnetka.

The event is sponsored by

),

, and the Winnetka Public Schools.

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