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Naturally: if it is wild, it is better
16 March 2016

Visitors to Virtually On Track are unlikely to need telling that there’s a profound link between nature and health and many of us would even struggle to believe that the link needs explaining.

The reality is that 87% of New Zealanders live in urban settings, which is a contributing factor to them spending decreasing amounts of time connected to nature.

It would be misleading to suggest that the nature deficit is making them sick (though there are those who claim that is exactly the case).

When it comes to children, in particular, it’s not just urbanisation that cops the blame; entertainment, information and other technology is clearly in the radar.

Filmmaker David Bond has recently been on a speaking tour of the country based on his movie “Project Wild Thing” which paints a picture of screens being the major impediment to children spending time in the outdoors.

The movie is pretty compelling and has spawned a social movement, The Wild Network, aimed at reconnecting children to nature.

The Wild Network utilises guerrilla marketing to raise the awareness of nature and the need for people to put a higher value on it.

Some of the marketing is tongue-in-cheek and squarely aimed at reducing technology but that’s not to say that the film-maker is religiously anti-tech; after all, it’s only through digital video technology and social media that he’s been able to take his views to the world.

What he does say is that he’s supportive of high-tech, smart solutions that encourage and support outdoors activity.

Those of us who have built Virtually On Track think that’s exactly where this project fits in (and being named as a finalist in the NZ Sport and Recreation Innovation Excellence Awards suggests some others might agree).

Geo-caching and geoteering only exist because of technology, while, as I have argued in a previous blog, technology provides significant enhancement to outdoors recreation using such things as Strava and MapMyRide.

So if we are helping get people out and active, then according Bond and others we must also be contributing to better public health outcomes. I’m not about to disagree with that.

However, for me there’s an even more interesting hypothesis to explore.

If being active outdoors improves people’s health, does the quality of the outdoors have a proportional impact?

In other words: are people who do their activity in pristine environments, such as pest-free, bird-rich forest, more likely to be even healthier than those who play in relatively mundane outdoor spaces such as golf courses and many grassy urban parks, and even more so than those whose playground is a concrete dominated one?

The outdoors adventure activity guy in me would be happy to hazard a guess – the proprioception advantages alone give running in the wild a head start.

Maybe as a citizen science project you might like to think about where you feel strongest next time you are out on a GPS technology-assisted run through streets, parks and bush reserves.

Post your result on our Facebook page. Note that your post-run coffee shop is excluded from this survey; drug-enhancement of sport is another topic entirely!

This post was written by

Steve Brightwell - who has written 17 posts

Steve Brightwell is a partnership ranger with the Department of Conservation.

He has been a part of the Virtually On Track team from the project's inception.

Steve lives in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, has a communications background, and is a weekend warrior of modest multisport ability.

The views he expresses for this blog are his own and do not necessarily reflect or imply official policy of the Department of Conservation.

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