Ming Kuo, reality testing, and the benefits of natural environments on our mental health, and immunity

Ming Kuo walks under the trees on campus: NPR Hidden Brain.

Hidden Brain is a great podcast. And this episode where Shankar Vedantam interviews Ming Kuo is one of my favourites.

Kuo’s research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has led her to many surprising findings. That the human environment impacts humans so much physically and emotionally and psychologically was surprising to Kuo and she was skeptical of the benefits of nature.

“…to be a scientist – to be a good scientist is to be a skeptic, you know? So even when you have a theory that’s your pet theory – and this was by no means my pet theory – your job is to try to figure out, is there some way this – we could have found this without my pet theory being true?

Decades later, Kuo is so convinced by the data that when she walks to work, now, she looks up into the tree canopy. Especially compelling to me is the impact on our immunity when we spend a weekend in the forest. After we spend a three day weekend in a forest, it boosts natural killer cells by a whopping 50%. And the effect persists for 30 days, by boosting our natural killer cells for 24% over our baseline.

In 2018, Kuo won the 23rd Heinz Award for the Environment.1

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