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A Wilder View: A look at why we are “called” to the outdoors

Outdoor Calling Forest
Posted at 1:50 PM, Sep 06, 2023

MISSOULA - Have you ever been "called" to the outdoors? Well, it turns out there may be some science behind why.

Picture this — you're out in the woods, surrounded by towering trees, the soothing sound of a babbling brook in the distance, and the crisp scent of pine needles fills the air. Just breathe for a second. Doesn't that just feel amazing?

There are a lot of benefits to being in nature. It really is a breath of fresh air. Indoor concentrations of air pollutants are often two to five times higher than outdoor areas. It also has multiple ways to improve your mental health -- from soaking up much-needed vitamin D to soothing your frazzled nerves, it's your cozy sanctuary for a happier mind. Like a lullaby for your restless nights, it can help you sleep more by resetting your internal clock.

And it helps out your immune system. Microorganisms from the wild help keep your defenses sharp, preparing your body for when those pesky infections come knocking.

Our connection to nature isn’t just about the surroundings. Recent research shows it’s actually in our DNA!

Scientists have been hard at work unraveling the genetic threads that make us who we are and suggest a portion of our desire to be in nature and how we experience it might actually be heritable.

Just like you might inherit your eye color from your parents, your inclination to soak up the sun in a park is also inherited. A recent study in Plos One found that heritability of enjoying nature is around 46%.

While genes certainly play a role, it's not the whole story. Our experiences and upbringing also shape our connection to nature. It's like a dance between nature and nurture.

You can share your nature-loving genes with your kids or siblings, but without the chance to explore nature, those genes might fade into the background. But if you let nature into your life, those genes will thrive, fueling your desire to seek out the natural world.

This research helps us understand the complex interplay between our genes and our environment.

If you're not a fan of hiking, it might just mean that your genes are nudging you toward different ways of enjoying nature, like painting landscapes or bird watching. After all, nature comes in all shapes and forms, just like our genes.

Whether you're a mountain climber or a sunset admirer, remember that your unique connection to nature is all part of what makes you — well, you!