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Our Better Nature: How The Great Outdoors Can Improve Your Life

Researchers say there's growing evidence that nature has a powerful effect on us, improving both our physical and psychological health.
Researchers say there's growing evidence that nature has a powerful effect on us, improving both our physical and psychological health.

If you live in a big city, you may have noticed new buildings popping up — a high-rise here, a skyscraper there. The concrete jungles that we've built over the past century have allowed millions of us to live in close proximity, and modern economies to flourish.

But in this shift to an increasingly urbanized society, are we missing something important?

For more than 30 years, psychologist Ming Kuo has studied the effects of nature on humans. She came to this field of research not from an interest in greenery, but from a fascination with crowding and noise — the negative impacts of urban environments.

"I was interested in the dark side of the environment," she says. "I was interested in how violent or dangerous or you know bad urban environments had detrimental effects on people."

Kuo says she eventually became intrigued by the positive effects of nature after she started to dig into the data.

"It's only when you look at the patterns of what people are like with more and less access to nature that you start to see this pattern," she says.

This week on Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam talks with Ming Kuo about the physiological and psychological benefits of spending time in nature.

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Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, Thomas Lu, Laura Kwerel, and Camila Vargas. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Thomas Lu is an assistant producer for Hidden Brain.He came to NPR in 2017 as an intern for the TED Radio Hour. He has worked with How I Built This, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Pop Culture Happy Hour. Before coming to NPR, he was a production intern for StoryCorps.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.