Racism, Health & Action

A photo of a hospital's emergency room entrance, with EMERGENCY in large red letters, acts as a marquee for "Dr. Camara Jones speaks on racism, health, and action."

by Katie DiSalvo-Thronson

What can we do to live in a more just society where more people thrive, and race doesn’t determine people’s health?

HCLS is proud to present Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, a family physician, epidemiologist, and past President of the American Public Health Association, whose work focuses on naming, measuring, and addressing the impacts of racism on the health and well-being of our nation and the world. Dr. Jones speaks online tomorrow, Tuesday July 13, at 7 pm. Registration is required.

Dr. Jones’ work has been foundational to how our country thinks about race and public health and racial equity more broadly. This live webinar is a great opportunity to begin or deepen your understanding of these issues.

Dr. Jones speaks on how racism is a huge roadblock to achieving health equity in the United States, and how systemic racism, which we can act to dismantle, saps the strength of the whole society. She also provides definitions, frameworks, and other tools to equip participants to engage in a National Campaign Against Racism with three tasks: 1) name racism, 2) ask “How is racism operating here?”, and 3) organize and strategize to act.

In the Q&A segment and subsequent programs, we will bring the conversation to our county. What health disparities do people suffer from in Howard County and what can we do about it? Want a taste of Dr. Jones’ insight and perspective? Listen to this NPR piece.

Join us for the live Zoom presentation and Q&A discussion moderated by Kenitra Fokwa Kengne, Senior Program Officer at the Horizon Foundation. This is the first event in the Racial Equity and Local Action series, presented by Howard County Library System and sponsored by the Horizon Foundation. Register today.

Katie is the Community Education and Engagement Manager for HCLS. She loves people, the big questions, the woods, and chocolate.

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative

The book cover depicts the profile of a human covered in maple leaves, with some of the leaves trailing off into the air as if windblown. The colors range from shades of green to yellow. orange, and red.

By Nina L.

Finding ways to increase our well-being during the pandemic has taken on greater significance than ever. Spending time outdoors, one of the few pastimes still available to us, may actually have greater benefits than we realize, according to The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. Author Florence Wiliams, a contributing editor to Outside magazine and transplant to Washington, DC from Boulder, CO, felt depressed, irritable, and unable to focus after the move. Realizing that she missed the mountains and easy access to nature, Williams began asking, “…how much nature do we need to fix ourselves?” and, “What is it about nature that people seem to need?” Williams embarked on a two-year research project to learn the answers from scientists around the world.

Williams buoys up the factual and data-heavy text with sprinkles of humor evident in chapters titled, “How Many Neuro-Specialists Does It Take to Find the Stinking Milk Vetch?” and, “Squat Down and Touch the Plant.”  She subjected herself to wearing an EEG device strapped around her head while viewing the San Juan River, went on a kayaking trip with veterans suffering from PTSD, and visited countries including Japan, South Korea, Scotland, and Finland to understand what we can learn from other nations.

Many countries make access to and immersion in nature a national priority. In Japan, the practice of forest-bathing, or shinrin yoku, has been found to have quantifiable effects on health. The practice involves slowing down in order to open up to the sights, scents, textures, sounds, and even tastes of nature. Williams’ initiation into forest-bathing started with a warm cup of “mountain-grown, wasabi-root and bark flavored tea.” Later in the day she inhaled the scent of sugi pines, stretched out on a mossy boulder, and listened to the quacking of ducks. Afterwards, not surprisingly, her blood pressure measured several points lower.

Subsequent chapters fully explore the individual senses of smell, hearing, and sight. The hinoki cypress forests found in South Korea are full of beneficial phytoncides, a chemical released by plants. Beyond just smelling good, phytoncides boost the immune system, reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol, and improve concentration. The Korean Forest Agency offers guided trips through the forests to help cancer patients, children with allergies, and prenatal women, among others.

Similarly, just listening to a trickling stream can have a positive impact on our brain. Even as we tune them out, industrial sounds affect us negatively — traffic, planes, electric saws, and leaf blowers can all raise stress levels and deter alpha waves, while the opposite holds true of the sounds of nature. Enjoying beautiful scenery also activates “happy molecules.” Visual artist and physicist, Richard Taylor, studies fractal patterns found in nature such as in clouds, coastlines, and plant leaves. Exposure to fractal patterns activates brain regions that regulate emotions and reduces stress up to 60 percent by increasing alpha waves.

The Finns have found that a mere five hours a month spent in nature improves physical and emotional health. Recommendations for time outdoors can be compared to the food pyramid: short walks during the week, a weekend away once a month, and every year or two aspiring to spend a few weeks in a natural setting. Beyond benefits on an individual level, the increasing scientific evidence of how nature improves health can shape public policy decisions, such as how educators approach school recess, city planners provide urban green space, and architects design hospitals.

The wealth of evidence in The Nature Fix supports what many of us already know, that nature is good for us. Yet taking a deep dive into understanding the scientific research helped me override the temptation to stay on the couch and choose instead to find time in my day, even if just a little, to enjoy the rich and renewing effects of nature.

The Nature Fix is also available from HCLS as an ebook and an eaudiobook via Libby/OverDrive.

Nina L. is a Customer Service Specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS. She loves art, yoga, dogs, cats, and reading horizontally.