Be Open to Nature, It is Really Healthy
- A huge study involving data from more than 140 studies and 290-M people revealed that exposure to green-space, defined as open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation, led to significant health benefits
- Reductions in diastolic blood pressure, you know the bottom number, salivary cortisol, a physiological marker of stress, and heart rate, along with significant decreases in Type 2 diabetes and mortality from all causes and those specifically related to the heart were noted
- Exposure to green-space was linked to a lower risk of premature birth and increases in good self-reported health
- Increased green-space exposure may even improve outcomes for neurological disorders, cancer and respiratory mortality
Modern cities are seeking to incorporate green space into their planning. As the World Health Organization (WHO) notes, parks, woods, wetlands, meadows and other green spaces contribute oxygen to the air while filtering out air pollution. They also help to moderate temperatures and cool cities, while providing areas where people can safely exercise and interact.
“Green spaces also are important to mental health,” WHO states. “Having access to green spaces can reduce health inequalities, improve well-being, and aid in treatment of mental illness. Some analysis suggests that physical activity in a natural environment can help remedy mild depression and reduce physiological stress indicators.”
Have you heard of the “Healthy Parks, Healthy People” movement put out by the US National Park Service (NPS), which encourages people to spend time in parks and public lands to create healthy societies?
The benefits of park time shared by NPS include, the following:
- Improved mood
- Improved physical, mental and spiritual health
- Increased social connections, thus adding to community cohesion
- Encouraging active play in children, which is linked to physical, cognitive and social benefits
- Improved overall well-being
And there is ParkRx, or Park Prescriptions, movement, created via a collaboration between the Institute at the Golden Gate, the National Recreation and Park Association and NPS, which involves just what its name suggests: a health or social services provider giving a patient or client a “prescription” to spend more time in nature in order to improve their physical health and well-being.
Professor Andy Jones of the University of East Anglia (UAE) in England, who co-wrote the featured study, stated: “We often reach for medication when we’re unwell but exposure to health-promoting environments is increasingly recognized as both preventing and helping treat disease. Our study shows that the size of these benefits can be enough to have a meaningful clinical impact.”
In Japan, a practice known as Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, which is another term for spending time in nature, is incredibly popular. In a study that compared the health effects of spending time in a forest versus spending time in a city, the forest environment was found to promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity. The world’s oldest man lives like this.
Forest bathing has also been shown to offer relaxation effects while decreasing symptoms of depression, fatigue, anxiety and confusion in middle-aged men.
It’s even been found that visiting a forest increases the activity of natural killer cells, a part of the immune system, as well as the expression of anticancer proteins, beneficial effects that persisted for at least seven days after the visit to the forest.
Volatile compounds called phytoncides, such as alpha-pinene and beta-pinene, are released from trees and found in forest air.
They have been shown to reduce stress hormones and anxiety while improving blood pressure and immunity, according to Dr. Eva Selhub, a lecturer in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a clinical associate of Massachusetts General Hospital.
It is thought that phytoncides released from trees, as well as reductions in stress hormone, may be partly responsible for the increased activity of killer cells.
When nearly 500 volunteers spent time in a forest, they experienced significant reductions in stress levels, including lower scores in feelings of hostility and depression.
The researchers described forests as “therapeutic landscapes” and said they could be extremely advantageous for dealing with acute emotions, especially for people with chronic stress.
It could be that this re-connection to nature is helping to solve the disconnect many people feel when they’re removed from nature.
According to researchers in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “Humans have evolved into what they are today after the passage of 6 to 7 million years. If we define the beginning of urbanization as the rise of the industrial revolution, less than 0.01 percent of our species’ history has been spent in modern surroundings. Humans have spent over 99.99% of their time living in the natural environment.
The gap between the natural setting, for which our physiological functions are adapted, and the highly urbanized and artificial setting that we inhabit is a contributing cause of the ‘stress state’ in modern people … We believe that nature therapy will play an increasingly important role in preventive medicine in the future.”
But, come on now, we need not wait for a ParkRX to make spending time in nature a priority. Get up 30 mins earlier and going for a walk in a park or forest preserve, or use your lunch break to meditate under a tree or listen to the sounds of nature or flowing water.
Then when you have more time, take a hike in the woods or escape to the mountains or a beach. You can also combine your exercise time with nature by doing your workouts outdoors.
Remember too the importance of grounding, walking on the Earth barefoot, and seek to stay grounded to the Earth as much as possible. All you need to do is place your bare feet on the ground, whether it be dirt, grass, sand or unsealed, unpainted concrete. And, when indoors, a grounding pad can be used while working or sleeping.
Never underestimate the significance of adding natural features to your indoor environment, especially plants, and choose a room with a natural view whenever possible.
Another way to enjoy nature is by planting your own flowerbeds and Organic vegetable garden, which allows you to spend time cultivating the soil and also enjoying the harvest, eating natural Organic homegrown Real food is another way you can connect with and benefit from nature.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively
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