A few weekends ago we went hiking and geocaching as a family. Hiking is something we absolutely love to do, yet don’t do often enough. Life gets too busy and now that we are running a small homestead it’s become too easy to find reasons not to go. There always seems to be something that needs getting done around here! I finally had a day off from my busy craft show/vending calendar and we made plans to hit up a local forest trail for some much needed nature connection time.
Human beings are supposed to spend time outdoors; in fact time in nature is vital to our health and well being. But as our society has ‘progressed’ we have started to spend more and more time indoors. Our lives are sedentary and spent wrapped between four walls. Over time this does have a lasting negative effect on all aspects of our lives. I start to notice it first in my behaviour – I become agitated over the smallest problems and my fuse gets just a bit shorter. Then the stress levels increase which impacts my sleep and how I eat. Poor sleep and diet lend to even more agitation, stress and anxiety which leads to even poorer choices. You can see how this creates a negative feedback loop that becomes more destructive as time passes.
Time in nature is a prescription that almost every single one of my herbal clients receives. Regardless of why people come to see me, everyone can benefit from more time connecting with nature. Here are some of the reasons why:
There are lots of great studies that show cortisol levels (the stress hormone our body produces) are significantly lower in individuals who spend regular time outdoors. Even something as simple as a window looking out onto a green space in your office can have a positive effect on your stress levels. So the next time you feel agitated at work or frustrated at home, take a break and go for a walk. That ten minutes spent on yourself will do wonders for you. For long term stress management, make time outdoors apart of your daily/weekly routine.
Benefits of Sunlight
Bottom line, we need sunlight to produce and activate vitamin D. This vitamin is important in immune function, the prevention of cancer and osteoporosis and to help keep our bones and connective tissues healthy and strong. Studies have even found that folks with low vitamin D levels are more prone to heart attacks.
Setting aside the science of the argument, sunlight hitting your skin is emotionally and spiritually healing. I know you know what I’m talking about – that moment when you close your eyes and let the sun’s rays hit your face. You take deep breath and sigh in joy. There is no science that can explain this instant reaction to sun exposure, but who cares! It makes you feel good and joyful and that is good enough for me.
Improved Mental Clarity, Focus and Memory
Have you ever had one of those days when you just couldn’t focus on the task at hand? I’ve had so many days like that (in fact today is one of them) and I always surprised how a quick ten or fifteen minutes of sunshine and fresh air can renew my concentration. There are studies that show walks in a forest can reduce anxiety levels, or 20 minutes outside can help a child with ADHD focus better. Science is finally starting to catch up to us natural health practitioners!
A lot of people talk about the cold and flu like it’s a season; I’m guilty of this too. But one of the reasons viruses hit us harder in the winter months is because we spend a lot less time outside. There are other reasons like reduced water consumption and exposure to sunlight (thereby lowering vitamin D levels), but the truth of the matter is, time outside increases our immune system’s functioning.
Understanding why this happens is a complex issue and we don’t have all the answers yet. But a series of studies were done in Japan where they divided participants into two groups. The first group, known as “forest walkers” were instructed to take a walk in Nature or forested area. The second group walked in a city setting. On the second day the participants switched groups. It was found that the forest walkers had lower blood pressure, cortisol and pulse rates. Amazing!
In 2013 the David Suzuki Foundation held the 30×30 Challenge where they challenged participants to spend at least 30 minutes outside every day for 30 days. Over 10,000 Canadians participated in the challenge and the results were amazing. Participants experienced an increased sense of general well-being, had more energy, felt less stressed and agitated, slept better, felt more productive at work and felt happier. Click on the link above for the foundations full report on the challenge.
Along the same vein as this, there have been many studies done on the effects of time in nature on folks who suffer from anxiety and depression. A study done in 2009 reported that folks who lived closer to green spaces were less likely to experience depression and anxiety. This is extremely important information for folks who live in urban areas as the trend towards urban centres is associated with higher levels of mental illness. This information could be vital for folks with a history of mental illness when they are deciding where to live or move to.
Improves Your Physical Health
If you are spending time in nature chances are you are doing something like hiking, walking, playing sports or working in the garden. Activities like this help to support cardiovascular health, improve respiratory health and help you stay at a healthy weight.
For many people, myself included, time in nature can be apart of a healthy spiritual practice. Removing ourselves from the crowded and artificial environments of our day to day lives can provide us with a sense of calm, peace and serenity. In fact, time in nature produces brain waves similar to those you experience while you are meditating.
I have found that the more time in spend in nature, the deeper my appreciation and gratitude for this amazing wonder becomes. As you spend more time out of doors you will gain a deeper appreciation for the world around you. In a recent study published by the Journal of Environmental Psychology it was found that people who are exposed to nature are more likely to take part in environmentally sustainable behaviours.
So I’m hoping I’ve convinced you how important nature connection time is to your health and well being. So what are you waiting for? Get outside would ya 😉