Sep 7th, 2017, 05:33 PM

Switching Concrete for Green

By Signi Livingstone-Peters
Chamonix, Mont Blanc. Image credits: Flickr/voyageur12
There's no wifi in the forest, but I promise you'll find a better connection.

The phenomenon of "city living," is relatively new,  in terms of the millions of years that humans have been around. Since the very beginning of the earliest civilizations, people have continued to gravitate toward one another to live in more condensed areas, areas where they could communicate with one another, make friends, and find work more easily than in rural areas. As time progressed, these clustered civilizations grew into metropolises, where now, more than half of the worlds population resides. Of course, reasons for living in cities that were rudimentary in ancient times still exist today, such as easy access to work, health care, nutrition and better sanitation. The downsides of living amongst concrete walls have significant downsides for mental health, with growing issues such as increased stress levels and chronic illness as a result of pollution, expenses, and job stress. Most simply, humans are genetically bred to live rurally. Shocking mental health statistics for city dwellers in in comparison with people who spend significant time in the country portray an issue that needs attention as our world continues to urbanize.

Image credits: Flickr/Igor Gorshkov

With roots in the Pacific Northwest and a childhood spent in a particularly rural town in central Vermont, the move to Paris, a city of concrete buildings and a population of 2 million, (in stark contrast to the circa 1,000 people in my hometown in Vermont), was a shock. Although I've grown to love and appreciate my new lifestyle in the city, and the endless opportunities to experience art, a new language, interact with different cultures and even get food of my choice delivered to my door at 3 am (something that would not even be a remote possibility in rural Vermont) I still find myself craving greenery more often than not.

Image credits: Flickr/brue'

In light of a recent article published by BBC Earth, which discusses the scientific manifestation of how truly important being connected to a part of nature—even if it’s small—is crucial for a human’s mental health. I began to consider how the mental health of people in my own current city, and around the world may benefit by either getting out of the city for a couple of days, or interacting with nature in one way or another, at least once a day. In the “UK’s first month-long nature challenge", participants were encouraged to participate in connecting with nature at least once a day, for 30 consecutive days. The positive results of this experiment in regard to habitual city dwellers mental health proved both scientifically and statistically how significant interacting with nature on the regular is—and how much it can help resolve mental health issues that often stem from stress. Upon reading this study, I couldn't help but draw parallels between the feeling I got after being in Paris for weeks at a time with no exposure to nature or the outdoors, versus how refreshed I felt after being out of the city for the weekend or having just returned to Paris from Christmas or summer break in Vermont.

Here's a small list I've composed of villages and towns anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours from Paris to head south (or north) when the city life becomes overwhelming: 

Chamonix, Mont Blanc

Image credits: Flickr/ERIC STANISLAS

Only six hours from Paris, and one of my personal favorites, Chamonix is a stunning, world class mountain town that's peaks truly lie somewhere between heaven and earth. Take the OUIBUS from less than 70 euros roundtrip, or take a train to Geneva and catch one of the regular busses from the airport or city center to Chamonix. Hiking and climbing are available all year round, while ski season lasts from December through May. 


Image credits: Flickr/Guillén Pérez

Located in the Haute-Garonne commune in south western France, Bagnères-de-Luchon is a small village located in the Pyrenee region close to the northern border of Spain. 7 hours away from Paris, Bagnères-de-Luchon makes for a perfect weekend trip where skiing, hiking, swimming on pristine lakes, and several spas are available. 

 Vallée de Chevreuse (RER Accessible) 

Image credits: Flickr/Jean Paul CERNY

Just circa half an hour outside of downtown Paris, Vallée de Chevreuse is a regional natural park that is located in the Ile de France region. Simply take RER B to stop St Remy Les Chevreuse, and there you'll find a free shuttle on Saturdays and Sundays for a day of reading, running, or relaxing outdoors. There are also many sight-seeing opportunities such as the Château de Rambouillet, Château de Breteuil and Port-Royale-des-Champs Abbaye. Cycling opportunities are also possible around the park's vast roads inside of the forest.

It's time to invest in a fern and start making notes on your calendars for health-orientated weekend getaways! (Disclaimer: doctor's note not included.)