What are you doing to promote your well being? After all, our true health does not come in the form of a pill. According to Dr. Frank Lipman (physician, author and founder of Eleven-Eleven Wellness Center in NYC), our “hermetically-sealed lifestyle” is making indoor zombies out of us (http://www.drfranklipman.com/get-out-there/). A step outside can wake up our dulled senses, boost our immune system, lift our spirits, and help reduce our risks for illness and disease.
If you live in the city, here are a few easy steps to connect with nature and feel its healing power:
If you can actually get out into the woods, the effects are even better. Various researchers have discovered some remarkable therapeutic effects when people spend time in nature. A large study determined that 10% of people with high blood pressure could get better control of their hypertension if they spent just 30 minutes in the outdoors each week (University of Queensland in Australia). Spending time in a forest or a park helps with mood disorders (lessening anxiety and depression), according to a 2015 study (Time Magazine, July 25, 2016) published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists have discovered that when people spend time in the woods or with nature in some form, the body produces various substances, which can lower blood pressure, promote cancer-fighting cells, and reduce levels of inflammatory compounds. There is also a positive affect on memory. A study done at the University of Michigan found that people improved their short-term memory by 20% after a nature walk (Time Magazine, July 25, 2016).
One of the substances that the body produces is called phytoncides, which are associated with lowering blood pressure and increasing the number of specific types of white blood cells, which lower the risk of certain cancers. Phytoncides are also emitted by certain plants and can trigger healthy biological changes in our bodies; this is the rationale behind the therapeutic use of aromatherapy. Many illnesses and diseases are associated with hidden inflammation, and researcher Paul Piff at the University of California has discovered in his research that lower levels of inflammatory compounds occur when people spend time in the woods, parks, or in the countryside (http://www.wsj.com/articles/researchers-study-awe-and-find-it-is-good-for-relationships-1424717882). They call it the “awe experience.”
If you are unable to get to a park in the city or travel to the countryside, alternatives to nature might help. You can add plants to your home environment or workplace. Positive effects can occur with being able to look out a window at a tree or plants. Certainly listening to the sounds of nature (music) is known for helping with stress reduction. Even smell is a powerful sense that we don’t always pay attention to. Aromatherapy, which is the use of natural oils with pleasant smells, is very therapeutic. Add a massage to those essential oils and it is even better!
Sometimes research just seems to prove what we already know. For most of us connecting with nature, in some form, makes us feel better. In order to have a positive effect, the interaction must be customized; not all of us would choose rock climbing, but hiking in the woods, gardening, or looking out the window at a tree-lined street might be more appealing. The scientists at Stanford University, who have studied this connection with nature, call it “biophilia.” This is described as "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life” (https://bewell.stanford.edu/features/power-of-nature). Intuitively, I think most of us have experienced the restorative powers of nature in one form or another, so be sure to incorporate it into your everyday life. Reap the benefits!
This article is dedicated to the many family members and friends who enjoy nature and the many therapists who utilize it to help with healing.