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Joanna Duell Walters ’13 looks up at the giant pine trees at Cumming Nature Center in nearby Naples, N.Y. Experts say time spent outside can boost creativity and wellness and reduce stress. /Photo by Keith Walters ’11

The great outdoors is a prescription for reducing stress and feeling good.

By Jim Memmott

Put the books and your phone down. Go for a walk. Sit outdoors. Watch the sunset. Don’t talk. Take nature in.

Geneseo Rx, a program launched last fall, has these and other prescriptions for students (and staff and alumni) who want to reduce the stresses they feel.

“A 10-minute walk in the afternoon can really make a difference,” says Charles “Chip” Matthews, senior director of student life and one of the founders of the program, an offshoot of Cornell University’s Nature Rx. “It costs nothing except a little bit of time, and because of its simplicity, it’s often overlooked.”

Plenty of research shows the benefits of time outside — reducing stress, boosting creativity and enhancing a sense of wellness. But a retreat into nature may not be second nature to students who are busy with the demands of academic life, says Matthews, who was joined by Keith Walters ’11, director of multimedia, and Laura Swanson, a staff counselor in the Department of Health and Counseling, in getting Geneseo Rx started.

To help students learn to walk the walk, Walters guided groups in the 20- acre Roemer Arboretum on campus. He asked everyone to turn their phones off and walk 30 minutes. “Be mindful of what you are hearing,” he said, “and what are you seeing.”

The feedback was positive. “Some of the students spoke about how they felt more relaxed, more at ease,” Walters says. “And they wanted to do more of this kind of thing.”

The Geneseo Rx group offers tips at their “Wellness in Nature” page on Geneseo’s Health and Counseling website. Here’s one: “If you go with a friend, agree on a set period of time when no speaking will occur. Instead, focus on your surroundings.”

There’s also a map. “One of the great things about the Geneseo campus is we have so much green space,” Matthews says. “We’re in the middle of nature.”

Walters and Matthews believe Geneseo Rx will be a vital resource when campus life resumes. “There will be post-traumatic stress,” Matthews says. “And I think this is one of those things we can do as a group, but it’s also something students can do for themselves.”

Inspiration to get out:

These books, recommended by Charles “Chip” Matthews and Keith Walters ’11, share the science behind the benefits of being in nature and how nature helps us grow.

Nature-Fix-_978-0-393-24271-3-(1)webThe Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams. She travels the world to investigate the science and research behind our connection to nature and its importance to our physical and mental well-being as well as our creativity.

Your Brain on Nature, by Eva M. Selhub and Alan C. Logan, offers a powerful wake-up call for our tech-immersed society and examines the effects that exposure to nature can have on the brain. It offers practical strategies for improving your cognitive functioning and mental health.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. He writes about his attempt to undertake a 2,000-mile journey on the Appalachian Trail with virtually no experience in thru-hiking or backpacking. It’s a great story of WAlkInWoodscover-webself-discovery through challenge and the valuable role nature can play in helping us learn and grow.

Visit the Geneseo RX page: