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The Healing Power of Nature

Why you need to step away from your devices and get outside.

 Alexandr Podvalny/Pexels
Outdoor Exercise
Source: Alexandr Podvalny/Pexels
  • Physical activity outdoor or just sitting outside to take in the fresh air has many health benefits.
  • Being in nature lowers cortisol, reduces heart rate, bolsters immunity, improves mood, among other gains.
  • Sunshine can also provide vitamin D, which is associated with improving mood disorders and preventing illness.

I have long been a proponent of spending time in nature as part of an integrative health plan. Even a small amount of time spent outdoors can physically, mentally, and spiritually impact health positively. Especially during difficult times, stepping away from the computer, phone, or TV, and taking advantage of outside activities can benefit your health.

The Physical Benefits of Time Outdoors

Research has shown that immersing oneself in nature influences the body. Spending time outdoors is typically connected to walking, running, biking, and hiking. Any exercise can reduce stress, improve pain, and brain function, and slow aging and heart disease. However, whether going outside to exercise or just spending a few minutes sitting outside to take in the fresh air has additional advantages. For example, it can do the following:

  • Lower cortisol
  • Reduce heart rate if aiming to enjoy nature casually
  • Stimulate the immune system through being around trees which emit chemicals called phytocides
  • Improves mood
  • Boost natural killer cells in the body that are important for fighting infection and cancer

Some individuals aren't fans of the quiet that can come from just listening to outdoor surroundings. If you fall under this category, consider listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks outside. This also might be a good time to call friends and family to catch up while you look at nature.

The Mental and Healing Advantages

Frequently we reference healing spaces as a way to improve lifestyle, mental health, and healing. The outdoors is a powerful healing space. When the sun is out, it provides vitamin D, which is associated with improving mood disorders and the prevention of various illnesses. Walking meetings can also boost creativity, reduce mental fatigue, and increase attention and focus.

If cold weather is delaying your interest in spending time outside, stepping outside for fresh air, or just sitting by a window and looking out at the sky, grass or trees can make an impact. One study showed that patients who had a room looking out on nature got out of the hospital after surgery a full day earlier than those that looked at a brick wall.

It can be tough to enjoy the outdoors when it is rainy or snowy. Grab an umbrella or snow gear and try to see the beauty in the raindrops or snowflakes as you spend time outdoors. If you're not a fan of messy weather, sit by a window and try to appreciate how special nature is throughout the various seasons.

There's a Spiritual Connection

There is substantial evidence that people who engage in spiritual and religious practices stay healthy longer and recover faster. Various religions have incorporated nature into their belief systems for centuries. Greek temples surrounded patients with nature, music, and art to restore harmony and promote healing. Chinese and Indian systems of care use space and geography to promote healing. Japanese medicine uses “forest bathing,” going into the woods, as a healing method.

Nature also frequently provides positive images for meditation. Just as winter turns to spring, one's self-healing capacity can move from sickness into health. The restorative quality of nature and your own body is an important image to hold onto throughout your health and wellness journey.

Connect Socially and Safely

In this time of social distancing, the research is clear that connecting with others outside is safer than connecting inside as it reduces the chance of viral transmission. That is true whether we are talking of the coronavirus or any other virus.

To reconnect with your friends and family, take advantage of the warmer weather to get outside and catch up during a walk in nature. You may even find this helpful with your coworkers.

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