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According to the studies, exposure to plants and trees provides positive benefits to our health. The human mind requires natural experiences, and even a few moments outdoors can provide opportunities that captivate our attention, whether watching the wind in the trees, a bird on the breeze or a raging river flow.

Labeled, Attention Restorative Theory, the concept claims that when walking in the woods, a person typically utilizes "involuntary attention" when observing birds, sunsets or waterfalls. Such opportunities provide positive restorative factors. They are relaxing because they do not trigger the negative emotional responses that often result from exposure to the sirens or honking horns of an urban environment. Involuntary attention does not require focused concentration, and it does not tax our brain. Rather, it relaxes it.

In the city, a person is always on the alert for threats, dodging traffic, avoiding pedestrians on the sidewalk, or expending excess concentration in an attempt to dim the din of urbanity. In order to accomplish this, a person must remain focused on a variety of tasks, constantly concentrating their "direct attention" on a wide range of stimuli. When we are constantly focused, our prefrontal cortex is always in overdrive, and we end up not being as good at things that require our "direct attention," such as learning at school or solving problems or resolving conflicts. In effect, urban environments diminish our ability to concentrate, which can affect memory and reasoning.

Recreation means to re-create, to renew or refresh one's body, mind or soul. Research has proven that even a short walk in a forest can have restorative effects. When in a forest, surrounded by trees and foliage, we experience the calming and renewing effects of the environment around us. In essence, we are replenishing our reserves, soaking up energy from the earth.

Studies indicate that meaningful outdoor activity is essential to human happiness and longevity. The time we take to re-create correlates with better health and increased productivity. Human beings require restorative natural surroundings, no less than other living creatures.

Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@adelphia.net.

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