Back to Nature

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”

           John Muir, who has been called “The Father of our National Parks”

As we prepare for the conclusion of another summer, it is important to remember that we can still love the great outdoors. In fact, we should nurture a love of nature.

There is so much evidence that being outside is good for your mind and body that we cannot continue to ignore it. I don’t usually write lists, but the following is a list of some reasons why enjoying the outdoors is so important. (Much of this list was borrowed from Mental Floss magazine):

  1. More mental energy. Beautiful pictures of nature, let alone actually being out in it, tend to inspire awe in people. This feeling can inspire more energy and motivation. My guess is that it is partially due to a bump in Dopamine when we feel awe.
  2. It feels easier to exercise when outside. One study showed that seeing green versus other colors caused people to feel they were exerting less during exercise.
  3. May be good for vision. Some studies have shown that spending more time outdoors leads to less nearsightedness. Rose et al concluded that higher levels of outdoor activity were associated with lower myopia prevalence in 12-year-old students. (Ophthalmology, 2008, Aug)
  4. Sunlight may help mitigate pain, even in the winter.   When in pain, I will take even a 5% pain reduction.
  5. Being outside, people reported less stress. Mao et al showed that a two-night trip to an evergreen forest for college students compared to a control group in an urban setting resulted less cortisol levels and less markers for inflammation (Biomed Environ Sci 2012; Jun)
  6. Breathing in phytoncides, chemicals produced by plants, increases white blood cell counts and therefore helps fight infection. Standing outdoors, deep breathing, also decreases stress.
  7. Aromatherapy: natural scents like roses, fresh cut grass, pine, can make you feel more relaxed.
  8. Enhanced creativity. Research has shown that creativity is increased when spending more time outside.
  9. Less seasonal affective disorder symptoms. Overall improved mood and self-esteem. There are several studies that support this.
  10. Increased levels of Vitamin D. This helps with bone strength, reduces inflammation, supports the immune system, may improve mood.
  11. Better focus. There is plenty of literature about this. Basically, every expert agrees that regular exercise and being outdoors improves focus. Just look at the title of this article: “Children With Attention Deficits Concentrate Better After Walk in the Park”. (Taylor, Kuo, Journal of Attention Disorders, March 1, 2009).
  12. Spending time in the great outdoors can remind us of the values of community, sharing, and relationships.This list is good but there is more!

The Journal of Affective Disorders published an article in 2012 by Berman et al that concluded there are cognitive and affective benefits for people with major depressive disorder when they interact more with nature. This occurred after only one 50-minute walk in a natural setting versus walking in an urban setting.In office settings, people who have windows with views of more natural settings tend to report less stress, more job satisfaction. (Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research, Shin, May 2007).

In 2005, Richard Louv, a child advocacy expert, published the book, “Last Child in the Woods”.   In it, he writes about the concept of “Nature Deficit Disorder”. He proposes a direct link between children spending too much time indoors and obesity, focus regulation problems, and mood problems such as depression. He cites a body of research that shows that exposure to nature is essential in healthy childhood development.

Finally, check out “Shinrin Yoku” online. This is a Japanese term that basically means, “taking in the forest” or “forest bathing”.   It is the concept of restorative health in many ways simply by spending time in a forested area.

Good luck to all with the new school year!

Thanks for ideas from Kevin Loria, former science and health correspondent for Business Insider.

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