Outside in Appalachia

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In the 1980s, some people in Japan developed a concept called Shinrin-yoku, also known as forest bathing or forest therapy. The idea is simple — natural areas offer calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to visitors. And yet even in a state as rural and forested as West Virginia, accessing natural areas can be difficult.

 

 

In bustling Morgantown, White Park is an oasis, with trails through wooded areas and a reservoir.

Kara Lofton

About ten years ago, the National Park Service noticed that fewer kids and families were using the parks. And they wanted to change that.

So in 2009, they partnered with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation to launch an initiative to help families unplug, get outside, and connect with their local natural resources. The initiative, called Kids in the Park, soon expanded to encompass pediatricians like Erin Regan who are trying to combat childhood obesity, diabetes and excess screen time by writing “scripts” for kids to go outside.

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A little over a decade ago, a psychologist named Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder,” meaning that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors, to the detriment of their mental and physical health. It’s not an officially recognized medical disorder. But health professionals from various fields are embracing the idea that America’s shift toward sedentary, indoor lifestyles is harming our health.