If you want to get healthy, it’s important that you regularly spend time in nature.  Multiple research studies prove that nature offers healing benefits.  These effects are far reaching.  They impact your health right now and for years to come.  They include reducing blood pressure, lowering stress levels, and reducing pain.  Nature helps people to feel more connected to themselves and each other.  Spending time in natural environments boosts physical, emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual well-being.

Nature Heals: Ancient Wisdom backed up by Modern Research

The idea that spending time in natural environments gets us healthy is not new.  Virtually all ancient wisdom traditions acknowledge the healing benefits of nature.  Science is now catching up and validating the wisdom of getting healthy by spending time in nature.

The Healing Benefits of Nature are Free and Accessible to All

You don’t have to venture into the wilderness to get healthy with the natural environment.  While getting away from it all and venturing into scenic, untamed wilderness or deserted beaches is an ideal way to experience nature, you can still reap the healing benefits of nature even if you live in a busy city.  Researchers have found that being in plant rich environments, having pictures of natural environments, or even a view of trees from a window offers healing benefits.

Getting Healthy with Nature Means Stress Dissipates

One of the main advantages of exposure to natural environments is a reduction of stress.  Stress reduction is critical in this busy modern age.  Experts believe that stress has a role in the development of virtually all diseases.  It is a major factor in the big killers of our time including, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.  In addition to directly causing illness, stress impairs quality of life and contributes to substance abuse and relationship challenges.

How does Nature Heal?

Researchers are unsure of exactly how nature heals.  It is likely by a combination of mechanisms.  Some experts propose that the healing effects of nature are due to genetics linking us to our ancient ancestors and the need to survive.  Others think that patterns in the natural environment are soothing.  Experts recognize that visualizing or experiencing natural environments gives us a mini break, a sense of getting away from our daily problems, if only for a moment.

Members of diverse disciplines including architects, government officials, and medical experts understand the healing benefits of nature.  Many health care facilities now have healing gardens where patients, family members’, and staff can enjoy the wellness benefits that nature offers.

Nature Provides Diverse Healing Benefits

Studies indicate that exposure to natural environments produces a reduction in headaches, stress, and blood pressure.  These healthy effects of nature occur without any effort on the part of research participants.  Muscle tension decreases in natural environments.  Reduced muscle tension relieves and prevents pain.

People who are stressed recover quicker when they spend time in natural environments.  Nature is so effective at getting us healthy that it can reduce postoperative pain, diminishes hospital length of stay, and lowers rates of absenteeism among employees.

Employees report improved job satisfaction when they have opportunities to spend time in nature.  Caregivers of the elderly report less fatigue and burnout when they have opportunities to spend time in natural environments.  Fear and anger dissipate in natural environments.

People express more positive emotions and feelings as well as a greater sense of well-being when they get outside.  Individuals who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia maintain they contact longer when in natural environments.

People who have access to nature perceive their level of health as better than those who do not have the same opportunities.  Research shows that exposure to nature results in decreased medical expenses as people experience fewer illnesses and have a greater sense of well-being.

Getting Healthy with Nature Provides Community and Financial Benefits

Multiple studies have been conducted to evaluate the relationship between communities and nature.  Neighborhoods that plant trees and offer opportunities for residents to spend time in natural environments get healthier.  Property values increase.  Noise levels decrease.  Temperatures moderate.  Air pollutants diminish.  Crime rates drop.  Residents who live in areas that are rich in natural environments express an increased sense of community spirit, cooperation, and neighborhood pride.

If You Want to Get Healthy, Go Outside

The benefits of nature arise passively.  No effort is needed to reap nature’s healing.  Just being in nature is sufficient.

Natural environments provide opportunities to improve health in many additional ways.  Parks, beaches, and other natural environments encourage us to get healthy by engaging in pleasurable physical activities.  Exercise is a key to getting healthy.  Natural environments provide us with opportunities to get a little sunshine which is necessary for vitamin D, regulating sleep patterns, and enhancing emotional balance.  The natural environment offers opportunities to experience joy and wonder for free.  Natural environments are excellent resources for countless educational opportunities.

In 1865 the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted looked out over the Yosemite Valley and saw a place worth saving.  He urged the California legislature to protect it from rampant development.  Olmsted had already designed Central Park in New York City; he was convinced that beautiful green spaces should exist for all people to enjoy.  “It is a scientific fact,” he wrote, “that the occasional contemplation of natural scenes of an impressive character … is favorable to the health and vigor of men and especially to the health and vigor of their intellect.”

Olmsted was exaggerating; his claim was based less on science than on intuition.  But it was an intuition with a long history.  It went back at least to Cyrus the Great, who some 2,500 years ago built gardens for relaxation in the busy capital of Persia.  Paracelsus, the 16th-century German-Swiss physician, gave voice to that same intuition when he wrote, “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.”

In 1798, sitting on the banks of the River Wye, William Wordsworth marveled at how “an eye made quiet by the power / Of harmony” offered relief from “the fever of the world.”  American writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Muir inherited that outlook.  Along with Olmsted, they built the spiritual and emotional case for creating the world’s first national parks by claiming that nature had healing powers.

via Call to the Wild: This Is Your Brain on Nature

As we head further into summer, take advantage of local forested areas; you may do more than simply stretch you legs and breathe fresh air.  A Japanese study, released by the University of Kyoto and published in Public Health, entitled, ‘Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction’ describes a link between walking in forests and reducing chronic stress.  via Nature’s Healing Effects on Your Body & Your Mind | HuffPost

The idea that spending time in nature can make you feel better is intuitive.  We all feel this to be true, and many of us have anecdotes of our own or from friends or family that support that idea.  People who have been suffering from stress, sickness, or a trauma can spend quiet contemplative time in gardens or taken to the mountains or woods to heal. But nature is not just wilderness.  The benefits of nature can also be found in our communities’ parks and green spaces.

via Health Benefits of Nature | asla.org

Exposure to forests boosts our immune system.  While we breathe in the fresh air, we breathe in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects.  Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease.  When people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells or NK.

These cells kill tumor- and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study, increased NK activity from a 3-day, 2-night forest bathing trip lasted for more than 30 days.  Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.

via Immerse Yourself in a Forest for Better Health – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation

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How to Get Healthy with Nature

Unlike many other healing modalities which are difficult to do, require money, and effort, getting healthy in natural environments is easy.  Nature can be accessible to everyone regardless of health, or age.  Here are some tips for getting healthy with nature:

  • Spend time outside every day.  Walk or bike instead of driving.
  • Spend time outside just to enjoying nature.  This has more benefit than being outside scrubbing the car or doing other tasks.
  • Take a walk during your lunch break from work.
  • Exercise outside rather than in a gym or other indoor environment.
  • Grow a garden.  Even city dwellers benefit by growing indoor gardens and houseplants.
  • If you work indoors, try to work near a window if possible.  If it isn’t, then hang up beautiful scenes of nature in your environment.
  • Schedule outdoor activities such as picnics, hikes, or sports for leisure time.
  • Provide opportunities for children to appreciate natural environment from an early age.
  • Learn about natures healing benefits and share your knowledge with others in your community.
  • Be active in movements that preserve natural environments and provide healthy communities for all.

If you want to get healthy, relieve stress, experience less discomfort, lower your blood pressure, and feel connected get outside.  Reap the healing benefits that nature freely offers to all.

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