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REI Explores Link Between Nature & Wellbeing

REI Co-op has donated a $150,000 gift toward a long-term U.S. study exploring the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of spending time outdoors. The study will be conducted by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“We are at a crossroads. We know through current research that the average American spends 95 percent of their time inside. At the co-op, we believe the nation’s growing disconnect from nature will only exacerbate rising rates of chronic health problems,” said Marc Berejka, president of the REI Foundation.

“By supporting long-term research at Harvard, we aim to shine a light on the symbiotic relationship between health and nature. Nature is good for us, so we must be good to nature, and time outside should be part of every doctor’s toolkit.”

In the first phase of the study, researchers will hold a series of focus groups to understand traits and attitudes that influence individuals’ nature-seeking behaviour.

The outputs of these focus groups will be used to create surveys for subsequent phases of the research. In those phases, a broader group of study participants will provide data on how individuals differ in their patterns of nature engagement.

Using a smartphone app, those study participants will contribute data as they reflect on physical, cognitive, and emotional changes after spending time inside and outside over the course of several months, with the goal of understanding how various measures of health are conditioned upon exposure to types of nature.

“We believe this research approach will provide evidence and support for deeper consideration of nature-based medical alternatives that complement traditional clinical healthcare and emphasize the need to pay closer attention to potential costs of our culture’s increasingly indoor lifestyle,” said Dr. Jose Guillermo (Memo) Cedeño, research associate in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School.  

This research marks the next chapter in REI’s ongoing support for research into the health benefits of spending more time outside. REI has invested more than $1m into research examining the link between health and nature, through its in-house philanthropy program as well as funding from the REI Foundation.

These investments include support for work at University of California, Berkeley; University of California, San Francisco; Oregon Public Health Institute and Earthlab’s Nature and Health program at the University of Washington’s College of the Environment.   

In June 2018, a peer-reviewed study by the Great Outdoors Lab, (a collaboration between the Sierra Club and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center) concluded that getting outdoors improves physical, mental, and social well-being, and that the emotion of awe experienced in nature is an important mechanism driving these effects.

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