Chúk Odenigbo is researching impacts of physical and social environments on health, as he pursues his Ph.D. in Medical Geography at the University of Ottawa. supplied

Chúk Odenigbo is researching impacts of physical and social environments on health, as he pursues his Ph.D. in Medical Geography at the University of Ottawa. supplied

The word freedom has sparked countless revolutions across the world. It’s a word that resounds in our hearts; something that we constantly desire. Our innate yearning for freedom makes sense, since it has been shown to be an essential component of human health. In fact, people who feel “free” are less likely to die prematurely or even get sick!

For something so important to us, what does freedom even mean? Freedom is the ability to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of any given scenario or action and act accordingly.

So how does that affect our health? Statistics and history tell us that those who control their own lives live longer. Having freedom leads to having a sense of confidence and self-efficacy – the belief that you can succeed. This reduces the likelihood of mental and physical illnesses arising from stress and depression.

Freedom also affects our health in our ability to control our life trajectory. From our early lives to the languages we speak, it can sometimes feel like our lives have been predetermined. However, it’s important to remember that something seemingly small can drastically change our lives. We could meet a wonderful teacher who inspires that self-efficacy in us, or we could survive a car crash with one leg amputated. Freedom is our ability to either realize the paths we are on and alter them as we see fit, or to feel confident as we take the paths already set for us.

Many scientific and social studies have demonstrated something that many people already know: nature makes us feel freer. For example, research published in the journal, Social Science and Medicine, found that people who stare out at the ocean often feel a sense of awe. This awe has been linked to enhanced levels of belonging and empathy, which are key elements to helping people to feel supported and confident. Seeing the ocean can also encourage creativity and mindfulness, according to a study in the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s journal.

Parks, forests and green spaces also bring an immense sense of freedom. Research for Health & Place found that people who live near green spaces experience fewer feelings of loneliness and an increased perception of social support, which lead to lower instances of depression and negative feelings. Additionally, a Journal of the American Geriatrics Society study of elderly, medically healthy people living in community homes showed that resilience to physical decline and social isolation was linked with access to the outdoors.

Even just looking at nature sparks that sense of freedom and its benefits in us. A Journal of Environmental Psychology study found that university students who could see trees and other key elements of green spaces from their rooms felt less stressed and more productive – leading to better grades!

Humans have a natural tendency to gravitate towards nature. Why? It gives us a sense of freedom – whether that takes the shape of independence, a sense of belonging or awe. We are all different, on different trajectories with different opinions and thoughts. Regardless, the outdoors and nature remain key components of who we are.

Freedom is guaranteed in both our nation’s charter and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. All human beings have a right to be free, and nature helps us achieve this right. As such, we all need to discover our way of getting outdoors and connecting with nature – because we all deserve freedom.

This article was written by Trans Canada Trail contributor, Chúk Odenigbo.

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