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Why National Parks Should be Part of our Public Health Strategy

Every time I hike around the terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, I experience a sense of other-worldliness. I witness the steaming pools and spectacular colors created by Mammoth’s thermophilic bacteria. I reflect on the wonders of Yellowstone - from the roaming bison herds and wolf packs to the amazing geysers and boiling mud pots. This rush of images make me feel connected with something larger than myself. The United States government preserved the 2.2 million acres of Yellowstone in 1872, making it America’s first national park set aside “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” During Yellowstone’s nearly 150 years, we’ve learned a lot about national parks and wild places.

The feeling that flows through me as I take in the sites of Yellowstone is called “biophilia,” a term made famous by entomologist E.O. Wilson. It means humans are hardwired to connect with nature. Those benefits for the people envisioned in 1872 are real. Numerous scientific studies show that being outside is critical to our physical and mental health. According to author Florence Williams who wrote The Nature Fix, time in nature decreases blood pressure, inhibits production of “stress hormone” cortisol, and may protect against type II diabetes. Williams highlights peer-reviewed, scientific research to show that even five minutes in nature can lower blood pressure, relax muscles, and increase positive feelings of connection with others.

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Heather White is a conservation policy and green living expert. She is the former President & CEO of Yellowstone Forever and former Executive Director of EWG. She lives in Bozeman, Montana.


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