It’s no secret that much of our society is driven by technology. Scientists and the medical community have been looking at what the time spent on all of our devices is replacing. Many argue that time outdoors has taken a backseat to screens. In many cultures, we’ve replaced the hours spent outdoors farming with jobs that are indoors and technology based. We may just be realizing how constantly being indoors is affecting our mental and physical health. Here’s a rundown of what exactly Nature Deficit Disorder is and the effects it has on the health of both children and adults.

What is Nature Deficit Disorder?

Nature Deficit Disorder can be described exactly as it’s named. It’s the deficiency of nature in human beings. Due to modernization, urbanization, and cultural standards, the time most of us spend indoors is now at a whopping 90% according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This means that 10% of the time we spend outdoors can mostly be accounted for as travel or commute time with the occasional outdoor activity. While there are practical reasons why we are indoors more such as jobs and our urban living environment, scientists argue that we should all be making more time in our lives for the outdoors. It’s essential to our well being on a number of fronts.

The United Nations released an article in 2014 that showed that over half of the human population worldwide lives in urban areas. That is projected to be more than six billion people by 2045. Despite the fact that we need to live closer to urban areas for jobs, infrastructure, education, and a host of other reasons, scientists believe this goes against our basic human nature.

Nature Deficit Disorder is an illness that the medical community is linking to behavioral and mental disorders in children. When children aren’t allowed enough access to the outdoors, they may be more likely to suffer from behavioral or mental issues. The reasons for this include, safety concerns, lack of green space, a lack of parks, educational time constraints, and an increase in screen usage.

The benefits of being outdoors

Being outdoors has a number of health benefits. You’ll see positive side effects on both the physical and mental fronts. One of the best side effects of sunlight is vitamin D. Even though we may think food is our main source for this essential vitamin, the sunlight actually accounts for 90% of our intake. Being outdoors is also known as an energy booster. It’s said that just 20-minutes outside is equivalent to drinking a cup of coffee. The outdoors also lends itself to an increase in physical activity. Many activities such as walking, running, hiking, or even just sitting outside are also free. Being outdoors more even been linked to better vision in children. Natural sunlight is also believed to be a pain reliever. Plants are shown to produce phytoncides which are airborne chemicals that increase our levels of white blood cells. This can help our bodies to fight off infection and diseases. It’s no wonder cold and flu season typically takes places in the winter.

Mentally, the outdoors also does our bodies good. Being exposed to nature has been linked to an increase in well being. Sitting or walking outside, for example, provides some time away from screens to reflect. It’s been shown to relieve stress, calm nerves, give us perspective, and boost our moods. In children specifically, when they are given the room outdoors to blow off steam, they come back feeling more focused, in better moods, and full of endorphins.

How we’re fighting back

Everywhere from schools to Silicone Valley, people are fighting back against Nature Deficit Disorder. Now that we’re learning more about the positive effects of being outside, corporations, city planners, doctors, and educators are making more time for this essential part of our well-being. In Japan, for example, the ancient tradition of forest bathing is becoming increasingly popular. In a country where the dense urban population is literally overcrowding, there’s been a recent shift towards the importance of green space and utilizing the over 3,000 miles of green forests available in Japan.

In Silicone Valley, for example, more and more companies are building in green spaces and places to work outdoors. Sprawling campuses are popping up with access to running trails and outdoor fitness classes. Outdoor eating spaces and meeting tables allow for employees to take a meeting that would have normally been conducted inside, out in nature. The environments encourage people to take lunches outside, go for walks between tasks, or workout during a break. Employers reap the benefits of healthier and more refreshed employees. Someone who is able to take a break outside will come back more focused on their next task. More physically active people are also healthier, therefore reducing insurance costs and sick time off. One of the biggest benefits is in the fight against burn out. You’ll have a much higher turnover rate in an environment with overworked, burnt out employees.

For children, doctors are encouraging schools and parents to allow for more supervised play outdoors. Taking gym class outside, eating lunch outdoors, or even just taking kids for a walk can do wonders for their mood and attention spans.

Medically, many doctors are now almost prescribing outdoor time like they would a medicine. By encouraging patients to sit or walk outside for even just 20-minutes a day will help in the fight against Nature Deficit Disorder.