Being Outside Is Good For Your Health—But Does Golf Count?
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Being Outside Is Good For Your Health—But Does Golf Count?

There are many health benefits of spending time in nature—but what exactly does that mean?

By Betsy Morris
Tue, Mar 9, 2021 1:32amGrey Clock 2 min

In response to our recent story about the health benefits of spending time in nature, readers wanted to know: What type of nature counts?


The bottom line

Lots of studies indicate it is good for you to spend time in the woods. But what about the beach? The garden? On a motorcycle? What about a golf course? What if you don’t walk the golf course but ride in a cart? What if you’re having a really frustrating game?

Though hundreds of studies convincingly suggest that spending time in nature is good for health and longevity, scientists still don’t know exactly why. “What really is it about ‘nature’ that makes us healthier? We can’t nail it down to one thing that is true for all people,” says Christopher Minson, a University of Oregon physiology professor and chief science officer of NatureQuant, a startup working on an app for users to track the time they spend in nature.

Take golf courses, for instance. Those count as nature because they are green space. Numerous studies have associated golf with improved health. But is that because of the exercise or the nature? “No research I’m aware of has directly investigated whether the health benefits to being on a golf course can be attributed to nature itself,” Dr. Minson says.


The details

Beach time? It is good for your physical and mental health, according to a growing body of research. Adults in England who live in coastal areas “tend to be happier and healthier than similar individuals inland,” according to a study published in the journal Environment International in 2019. That may be partly because they were more physically active. They took more walks. The difference in onland physical activity between those living less than 5 kilometres—or a little over 3 miles—from the coast and those living more than 50 kilometres was equal to cycling 14 to 40 minutes a week at 15km an hour, the researchers found.

That wasn’t the only reason, though, according to the study. People living inland near “blue spaces”—rivers and lakes—also reported greater health and happiness that wasn’t associated with physical activity.

No, you don’t have to be exercising to reap the benefits of nature.

The practice the Japanese call “forest bathing” is strongly linked to lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones and decreased anxiety, depression and fatigue. It also is linked to decreased inflammation. Many scientists believe the benefits aren’t due just to clean air and less noise, but the substances released from trees, plants and soil. Those include organic compounds, pollen, fungi and bacteria that contribute to the diversity of microorganisms humans need for a robust and diverse microbiome—all the tiny living things on us and in us that protect us from disease. So just breathing the fresh forest air may help strengthen our immune systems, according to a review published in February in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The benefits don’t just occur in forests. Scientists define nature as all sorts of environments dominated by living material, from a small urban park to the wilderness, according to research. Their definition of “nature exposure” ranges from plants in a room to camping trips to virtual reality.

That means you are likely to get some nature benefits from gardening, kayaking or even on a motorcycle, assuming it’s out in the country, says Dr. Minson. A lot more research is needed to know just how much.


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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”