Utah National Parks, Ski Resorts: What Are the Health Benefits of Being in Nature?

Nature abounds in Utah. We pride ourselves on having “The Biggest Snow on Earth”, sharing our five beautiful national parks, enjoying mountain biking trails just minutes from downtown Salt Lake City and being proud of our museum. world-class natural history. The largest living tree – named Pando – has a home in the center of our state, and the gold and purples of aspen foliage adorn our foothills. We all need access to nature.

Many Utahns recognize the many benefits of nature and participate in efforts to understand, enjoy and protect it. Under the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 60% of Utahns surveyed said they had visited Utah’s outdoor spaces, the Tracy Aviary, and our many pocket parks.

Our spiritual leaders understand the vital connections between nature and people. The Temple Square Tabernacle Choir frequently sings songs that celebrate nature, and our pioneers promoted the sustainability of water, soils and other natural resources. The Salt Lake City Library has created a seed conservation project, which strengthens the links between people, healthy food, and home gardens. The Episcopal Cathedral of Saint Mark has installed solar panels to reduce its carbon footprint. The first Unitarian church provided a demonstration garden on its grounds.

The interweaving of nature and people also stimulates our economy. A 2021 study by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah showed that Utah’s outdoor activities are essential for the tech industry to recruit and retain employees. Over 80% of respondents said access to wilderness and outdoor recreation was the most important factor in choosing to stay here.

Being close to nature provides the people of Utah with benefits for physical, mental and emotional well-being. Interactions with nature of all types – wilderness expeditions, nature sights, and even the sounds and smells of nature – can speed healing from physical trauma, calm our spirits, reduce anxiety, increase our ability to learn and retain knowledge, and restore a sense of balance in our busy lives.

Trees in urban spaces help cool “urban heat islands” by reducing energy demand and lowering emissions. Groups such as The Nature Conservancy, Sageland Collaborative and Tree Utah are raising awareness and providing access to nature from all angles.

But is access to the benefits of nature for human health accessible to all Utahns? The answer is no, or at least not yet. An American Forests study of other U.S. cities documented a disturbing pattern of uneven distribution of trees and other green space that has deprived less privileged people of the health benefits that the presence of natural elements can bring.

Access to the health benefits of nature may depend on those with the physical, cultural and financial capacity to do so. Mountain bikes, ski passes, and national park entrance fees are beyond the means of many who live here. Many of our science education sites strive to increase a sense of belonging for all, but past practices reinforce the sense of exclusion among low-income and underserved populations; long-standing stereotypes that are difficult to overcome.

Arches National Park is pictured on Saturday April 17, 2021.
Annie Barker, Deseret News

In 2019, a group of people from many sectors of society formed “Nature and Human Health-Utah”. Its mission is to raise awareness of the health benefits of nature, to take action to protect nature and to improve accessibility to nature for all Utahns. These efforts are modeled after a group at the University of Washington, which, recognizing that experts concerned with nature and human health tend to circulate in their own professional and disciplinary spheres, created opportunities for exchange between representatives. from various professional backgrounds.

Our group in Utah currently has over 100 individuals whose interests and backgrounds include academic science, natural history, recreation, psychology, spirituality, mental and physical health, and gardening. During the pandemic, we met virtually and now we meet in safe spaces to implement our plans. In 2021, a philanthropist provided support to coordinate these efforts and support pilot projects and annual conferences focusing on the critical links between nature and human health.

In these times, when the health of humans and nature is threatened, all people in Utah must help foster synergistic ways to keep the bonds between us strong and sustained. Visit our website – natureandhealthutah.org – to learn more – and to join us in these efforts.

Information about NHH-UT from @theU: attheu.utah.edu/announcements/new-research-practice-collaborative-group-explores-connection-between-nature-and-health.

NOTalini Nadkarni is Professor Emeritus in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah and studies the ecology and conservation of tropical forests in Costa Rica, Washington State and Utah.

Tim Brown is President and CEO of Tracy Aviary.

Dorothy (Dart) Schmalz is Associate Professor and Interim Chair of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism at the University of Utah. She studies social stigma and prejudice as they affect health behavior and treatment, as well as the interconnections between leisure, nature and well-being.

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