Welcome to June, the sixth month in our 12 Months of Wellness series. We’re halfway through the year, and we hope you’re having as much fun as we are creating healthy change in our lives. So far, we’ve focused on nutrition, family relationships, fitness, finding your bliss, and de-cluttering. This month we’re taking advantage of the warm June sunshine to get outdoors and connect with nature.

Innate love of nature

The scientific term for humans’ love of plants and living things is biophilia. Egyptian tomb paintings depicted a love of plants and gardens more than 2,000 years ago. The first European hospitals featured gardens that were considered an essential part of the healing process.

Studies show that nature—whether experienced in gardens, parks, or wilderness areas—has a positive psychological effect. Exposure to nature reduces stress, improves attention, and restores our mental outlook.

A 2010 Danish study found that poorer health and health-related quality of life were reported by people who lived more than a kilometre away from the nearest green space. In fact, the odds of experiencing stress were 1.42 times higher for those who lived more than a kilometre away from a green space than for those who lived within 300 metres of a green space.

According to Canadian government figures, 27 million Canadians (81 percent of the population) lived in urban centres in 2011. Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal are home to 35 percent of Canadians.

If you’re an urban dweller who thinks it’s difficult to incorporate nature into your busy life, we’ll show you some simple ways to do so over the next four weeks.

Tell us how you’re doing!

How is your 12 Months of Wellness journey going? Keep us posted via blog comments on alive.com, Facebook comments, or by using the Twitter hashtag #2013alive!

And if you haven’t already, make sure to check out our ongoing updates on Twitter (@aliveHealth), Facebook (facebook.com/alive.health.wellness), and blog posts on alive.com. We’re posting regularly and alive staff are telling their stories too!

Week 1: June 2 to 8

Get outdoors

Spend the day at a local park/lake/trail

This week we’re going to spend a day at a local park, lake, or trail. Even if we live in an urban centre, most of us don’t have to travel far to find some green space.

The Japanese have a name for spending time in the forest: Shinrin-yoku. Translated, it means taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing. A 2010 Japanese study found that walking in a forest for 16 minutes, then viewing it for 14 minutes, lowered people’s pulse rates, blood pressure, and cortisol (often referred to as our “stress hormone”) more than similar walking and viewing activities in a city.

If you prefer to exercise indoors at the gym, it’s still worth the effort to spend a day outdoors. Research shows that physical activity in a natural environment is associated with a reduced risk of poor mental health—more so than exercise in other environments.

Alan Logan and Eva Selhub, authors of Your Brain on Nature (Wiley, 2012), examined the disconnect many of us have from nature, which is partially due to the excessive amount of time we spend in front of screen-based technology. This week, make time to reconnect with nature.

Enjoy the great outdoors

Many urban centres feature parks with multipurpose trails for walking, hiking, or cycling; picnic areas; a pond, river, or lake; bird watching opportunities; and trees, grass, or gardens.

  • Check out your local municipality’s website for park locations, directions, and amenities.
  • Explore a park you’ve never visited before.
  • Pack a healthy picnic and spend some quality time with family or friends.

5 largest urban parks in Canada

  • North Saskatchewan River Valley Park System, Edmonton
  • Rouge Park, Toronto
  • Fish Creek Provincial Park, Calgary
  • Nose Hill Park, Calgary
  • Wascana Centre, Regina

Week 2: June 9 to 15
Get outside on your lunch break

This week we’re going to step away from the desk. Yes, we know the excuses: you’re too busy, you have a looming deadline, it might rain, you forgot to bring walking shoes. This week, pack a lunch and your walking shoes!

Research shows that sitting at a desk all day is bad for our health. A 2012 systematic review and meta-analysis of studies on sedentary behaviour found that those who spent the most time sitting each day had a

  • 147 percent increased risk of cardiovascular events
  • 112 percent increased risk of diabetes
  • 90 percent increased risk of death from a cardiovascular event
  • 49 percent increased risk of death from any cause

Now there’s a kick in the pants to get us out the door on our lunch break. A walk to a local park not only offers us the physical benefits of movement, but it also gives us a mental break and the chance to reap the psychological benefits of connecting with nature. It’s the perfect opportunity to de-stress during a hectic day.

Encourage your co-workers to join you—or if you prefer, opt for some “me” time. Organizing a walking group at work is a great way to keep you motivated. You’re less likely to skip your daily walk if you’ve got other people to encourage you. You can even organize a walking meeting.

When planning a daily walking group, or a solo saunter, decide

  • where you will walk
  • how far you can walk
  • what you will do during bad weather
  • what time works best


Stop and smell the roses

  • Choose a park or green space to walk in, if possible.
  • Consciously focus on the trees, flowers, birds, and other gifts of nature.
  • Walk on an uneven trail to burn 82 percent more calories.

Get to Know Contest

Young people (19 years of age and younger) can enter the Get to Know Contest. Get outdoors and create nature-inspired art, writing, photography, video, and music for a chance to win wild prizes! Deadline is August 1, 2013. get-to-know.ca

Week 3: June 16 to 22
Flex your green thumb

Start a garden, even a small one

We can create our own green oasis, whether in our backyard, or on our patio, deck, balcony, or windowsill. Bright blooms lift our spirits, and there’s nothing like the taste of biting into a ripe, sun-warmed tomato fresh from the garden.

The physical and mental health benefits of gardening are well documented. A 2011 Norwegian study examined the social and psychological effects of therapeutic horticulture on clinical depression. The 12-week program resulted in significant improvement in all of the mental health variables studied, and results were maintained at a three-month follow-up.

As well as providing mental health benefits, gardening also provides moderate physical activity. For older people, gardening keeps hands strong and flexible.

City dwellers who live in apartments or condos without access to a backyard may find that local community gardens offer a space to grow flowers, herbs, and vegetables. They also provide an opportunity to meet neighbours and fellow gardeners.

A study on community gardening in southeast Toronto found that gardeners reported a variety of benefits. These included better health, improved nutrition, increased physical activity, improved mental health, and community cohesion.

Container gardening offers another option for those with limited space. Containers also offer a way to showcase or grow particular plants with special watering requirements. Almost anything that can be grown in the ground can be grown in a container. Local gardening centres and nurseries can provide information on the best options for your space and locale.

Growing your own flowers and vegetables allows you to use organic gardening methods. You can enjoy fresh veggies without herbicide and pesticide contamination.

Get growing

If you’re a gardening newbie, do your research before planting. There’s much to learn about garden design, placement of plants, sun exposure, soil, watering, mulching, et cetera.

  • Consult a local garden centre or nursery if you need assistance.
  • Search for local community garden listings online or through your municipality.
  • Seek advice from a neighbour who has a garden you admire.

Connect with Nature giveaway

We all benefit from getting outdoors and experiencing the natural wonders that surround us. Trade business meetings and air conditioning for wildlife watching and deep-woods exploring with our Connect with Nature giveaway. To see what’s included and to enter for your chance to win, visit alive.com/contests.

Week 4: June 23 to 29
Go green indoors

Invest in some houseplants

We can also bring the green outdoors indoors, whether in our homes or workplaces. Many of us sit at a desk for the majority of the day, and a bit of greenery can connect us to nature.

Houseplants can also clean our indoor air, improve our ability to pay attention, and enhance our mood and creativity.

In 1989, NASA released a study titled “Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement.” Particular houseplants were shown to be effective at cleaning the air of chemicals, such as benzene and formaldehyde. Building on NASA’s early research, a 2012 study found that potted plants decreased particulate matter in school classrooms by 30 percent.

Not only can houseplants clean the air, but they can also improve our attention. In a 2011 study, researchers tested students in two office settings, one with plants and one without. Plants prevented fatigue during demanding cognitive tasks. Plants can also assist our capacity to pay attention when viewed through a window in their natural setting.

An Australian study found that when plants were placed in classrooms at three middle schools, students’ performance in math and spelling improved after six weeks. In another study, the placement of plants in a room enhanced female undergraduate students’ creativity and mood during testing, compared to a room without plants.

Easy houseplants

If you don’t have a green thumb, these houseplants are very easy to grow.

  • barrel cactus: can go up to three weeks between waterings
  • cast-iron plant: drought-tolerant, it will grow in low or high light conditions and can handle extreme temperature changes
  • corn plant: a slow-growing plant, it stores water in its thick base so it can handle infrequent watering 

Popular plants

The plants used most often in studies were

  • golden pothos
  • arrowhead vine
  • Chinese evergreen
  • corn plant
  • philodendron
  • snake plant
  • peace lily
  • vinca vine

About the Author

Ellen Niemer is an editor and creative services liaison at alive, where she is surrounded by a jungle of plants at her desk.