Good Work New York vlogcast season 1 episode 10

Good Work, New York!

Good Work, Don!

Good Work, Don! (S1:E10 of Good Work New York Vlogcast)

On Good Work New York, we talked to Cornell University Professor Donald Rakow about his work on finding the connection between nature and well being! Read more about Don's research here: Explore the natural space locator on NatureRx @ Cornell: Check out Don's book Nature Rx from Cornell University Press here: To learn more about Cornell Research, visit the University's research blog:

Charlie: Hi there, Charlie here! Communications Manager for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland County and this is my pet project Good Work, New York. The podcast where we're talking about all the good work that happens here in Rockland County, the Hudson Valley, and New York State. Today I have with me a very special person, our guest today is a Cornell professor. Say hello, Don.

Don: Hi folks and it's great to have this opportunity to chat with you.

Charlie: And Don can you introduce yourself and say what you actually do.

Don: Sure I'm a professor in the horticulture section of the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell. I teach a number of courses to undergraduates and graduate students, I direct a graduate program in public garden leadership, and I conduct research on the human benefits of time in nature.

Charlie: That's great and that's actually what I am interested in hearing more about today. On -which is a great site where all of the latest research that's happening at Cornell University sort of showcased for the public- there was a recent article about your work and I wanted to know more. So you've looked at studies that help pair the idea of being in well being outside in the wilderness and better well-being. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Don: Yeah I'd be happy to and I'll start with a bit of a clarification. I feel that the benefits that we all derive from being out in nature doesn't require being out in 'wilderness' and one can be in a park, in a Botanical Garden, Arboretum, or large green field and all of these will provide benefits to people. So what I've been doing over the past several years is getting involved in studies that look had different periods in childhood and maturing and how individuals in each of these age groups benefit from nature. So for example, I'm part of a project which is funded by the Atkinson Center here on campus which is looking at both the logistics of introducing regular nature exploration times periods into elementary school classrooms. Then is also looking at how such nature exploration periods can really positively impact student behavior and even academic achievement.

Charlie: 0k, and so now your research is looking at youth and nature and it's really I think a very important piece and especially for us here in Rockland. We're very partially suburban partially urban. You are working with someone about looking at what keeps people from participating in natural spaces in urban settings, right?

Don: That's right. A colleague at the College of William and Mary, Dr. Dorothy Ibes, and I are looking at what are the primary barriers that have typically kept young urban people of color from spending more time in nature, in parks, other green spaces, and what we've been finding -based on extensive interviewing we've done with community leaders in three upstate New York and two Virginia cities- is that it's combination of Parks being too far away from where young people are living in their apartments parks often being deemed unsafe by their parents. Whether that is truly accurate or not, that's the perception. In some cases being out in nature being considered uncool and not an appropriate activity for teens, and as you and I were chatting about earlier just the prevalence of social media, video games, screens in all of their various uses, can serve to preclude teens actually going out into nature. Which is too bad because all of us benefit from such activity.

Charlie: Right now, being that we are on social media at the moment, I have to ask is there any way that maybe social media could help bridge those gaps for the urban youth? Could maybe someone going out and livestreaming a hike, would that possibly give any benefit to them?

Don: Yeah I think that there are positive ways that social media can be used- if used properly. So another of the roles that I play here at Cornell is directing our NatureRX program, whose focus is to get members of our student body to spend time out in nature to improve their overall mental and in some cases physical well-being. One component of the NatureRX program is a website that uses GPS location to direct users to the nearest natural area or landscaped area. What we're really hoping to achieve through that website is to have students especially but certainly also staff and even faculty here at Cornell to get over the mindset that, "Oh yes. I've heard nature is good for me, but it's too far away. It takes too much time." We're able to show through this website that in fact wherever you are on the Cornell campus nature is within five minutes walk of your current location. Likewise as you said I think social media can be used. For Instagram people can post beautiful photos of themselves in nature. Tik-tok they can post tiny videos of cavorting in nature. So there are ways of using social media in positive approaches, but I don't think it's a substitute for going out into nature.

Charlie: Definitely. So your research is in a sort of mid stage right now? You've done some of the qualitative stuff and you're doing the qualitative stuff and writing papers. And they haven't been published yet, right?

Don: That's right. We have several papers in the mill. We have one that is actually hopefully about to be accepted with revisions -that in which colleagues and I conducted what is called a scoping review -we looked at an enormous amount of literature narrowed it down to 14 papers around the question 'what is the minimum time dose in nature to positively impact the mental health of college aged students?'. And through those studies, through that scoping review, we found that as little as 10 to 15 minutes two to three times a week can have a positive statistically significant and verifiable benefit.

Charlie: That's wonderful! So going forward your research will be eventually published, but for the moment we have some resources -that will link to in the post- that people are curious they can check more about and learn a little bit more about children in nature?

Don: Yes, I co-authored a book that came out from Cornell University Press this past May, titled "NatureRX: Improving College Student Mental Health" and that's available through all of the normal outlets -including that outlet named after a famous river. So people can find that there. Also, looking forward in terms of future research projects and papers, one that I'm particularly excited about another component of the NatureRX program that I spoke about, is a nature prescription program through our Cornell Health Clinic. In this past year, 24 health practitioners at Cornell Health included almost 700 nature prescriptions as part of students electronic health records. And this year for the first time at Cornell and -I believe- at any campus anywhere, we're going to be sending surveys to each student who has been prescribed time in nature. And we'll be able to anonymously and confidentially coalesce all that data to really determine the degree to which being prescribed nature as part of your overall health prescription: A) is actually being followed and B) how much impact is that having.

Charlie: Great well I look forward to learning more as everything gets published and we start disseminating the research on sites like I am very happy that you came today, thank you very much. And we'll be back next week with another episode of Good Work New York and that's some good work, New York! Bye!

Don: Bye now.

Last updated December 13, 2019