The Healing Powers of Nature
Now that spring has finally sprung, and we are ten days from the summer solstice, I wanted to help motivate you all to get outside and feel nature. Last week Phil Carville wrote about the most potent healthcare medicine one could take – exercise. The article was filled with research that demonstrates the beneficial effects exercise has on our bodies and mind. So, to use that article as a Segway into getting into the great outdoors whether it’s cold and raining or hot and sunny the health benefits of just sitting outside around nature is healing.
Dr. Eva Selhub, MD is an expert in the fields of stress, resilience, mind-body medicine, and working with the natural environment to achieve maximum health and well-being. Dr. Selhub describes some disturbing data in countless research articles about the damaging effects of urban life and screen time and how the benefits of nature can reverse these effects. The average American uses the screen in any capacity for at least 10 hours a day.
This heavy use of screen time is associated with increased fatigue, depression, anxiety, ADHD in children and me, and poor concentration. A study done in Japan found that people that lived close to or near forests had significantly lower rates of cancer. This same type of research study has been replicated all over the world and the results are the same. If you live close to nature or green spaces, you will have fewer health complaints and live longer.
Other studies have found that the invisible chemicals in trees, called phytoncides (the aroma of the forest) can reduce stress hormones, lower anxiety, and improve blood pressure and immunity. Imagine that, just sitting in the garden of your backyard has a multitude of health benefits. These phytoncides are basically antimicrobial organic compounds from plants that prevent the trees from being eaten by certain insects and animals. The forest environment with all these aromas enhances human natural killer (NK) cell activity that function like anti-cancer proteins. These NK cells were found to last for more than 7 days after trips to forests both in male and female subjects.
Being outdoors also provides you with vitamin D and the natural stability of melatonin levels. Melatonin is found in every part of almost all plants, tree and shrub.
Dr. Selhub’s 7 easy ways to get Nature into your life
1. Spend more mindful time in nature.
She recommends at least 20 minutes a day in nature. Please do this without your cell phone. I have no trouble with this recommendation as I get most of my exercise on the mountain bike. I feel much better and safer on a mountain bike in the forests than riding with traffic on the road.
2. Go crazy with the plants
This simple fact that having plants in your living and work space is beneficial. Fill your office, home, porch, backyard with plants and you will feel better and perform better with improved concentration, energy, and even a decrease in pain.
3. Find a room with a view
I’m writing this article in a recliner that is close to the sliding glass window overlooking a Zen garden with a bubbling fountain, slate walking stones connected by groundcover and a wall of camellias, bamboo and blue skies. This type of set up is well supported in the evidence that working next to a view of nature promotes healing, relieves stress and promotes creativity. In one hospital-based study it was found that the patients that had a room with a view of greenery healed faster and had less complaints of pain.
4. Make it a retreat
It’s vacation time so get out into the forest, beach, river or lakes. You will sleep better and feel rejuvenated. The January issue of the Journal of Psychosomatic Research reported that meditation retreats are moderately to largely effective in reducing anxiety, depression, and stress and improving quality of life.
5. Connect with nature through food
Here is a good rule to follow. When grocery shopping, shop the perimeter of the store. This is where all the perishables like fruits, vegetables, milk, spices (mother nature’s medicine cabinet), proteins like all the meats and fish, bulk items and the deli sections are located. Most of the products in the middle of the store are in boxes, use lots of preservatives and can last months if not years in your cupboard at home. Unfortunately, they have moved the beer into the center isles as well, Dang. If your shopping bag contains foods that will spoil within a week or so, you’re on the right track.
6. Bring green to your fitness routine
I’m not much of a gym-rat but for a few short months in the winter when I can’t get out on my bike. However, find a way to enjoy the outdoors whether its 32 degrees and snowing or 100 degrees and sunny. My birthday is December 9th and I try and do something epic outside every year. This past year I was lucky enough to compete in a cyclocross bike race in Sacramento. It was cold rainy and quite a memorable experience. Don’t let the weather dictated your decision to enjoy the outdoors. Invest in great winter gear and get outside. What do you think was the results of the study that looked at jogging on a treadmill compared to jogging outside? You guessed it, the group that jogged outside had less perceived fatigue, diminished anxious thoughts, less hostility, more positive mental thoughts, and an overall feeling of invigoration.
7. Plan your life around nature
We are all winners hear. We have decided to live in the foothills were nature is at our fingertips, we have rivers, streams, lakes, mountains and valleys to enjoy with an abundance of greenery everywhere. When my kids were in elementary and high school, we created a family tradition to raft a different river in the southwest every summer. Five to seven days unplugged on a wild and scenic river. The magic of those trips is still talked about by all of us for their raw beauty and connectedness to nature.