Home::Happy Life::Five Ways Natures Helps Heal

Want to Lead a Happier, Healthier Life? Get out in Nature!

I go into nature to be soothed and healed and have my senses put in order. John Burroughs, American naturalist and nature essayist

The Japanese have a practice of walking through forests as a way of reducing stress. Called shinrin-yoku, which roughly translates to forest bathing, it involves opening the senses to the woody aroma of the trees and other plants, the green scenery, and the soothing sounds of streams and waterfalls... because they know that all of these elements play a part in promoting better health -- with effects lasting for at least a full week after each forest visit.

Happily, a small, but growing trend is emerging in the U.S. of mainstream doctors and physicians prescribing walking, hiking, biking, or climbing in the forest or neighborhood park -- rather than simply offering another pill to take -- to prevent/treat a growing number of diseases. This practice, which harkens back to a century-old practice when doctors sent their patients to health resorts and sanitariums -- away from the cities, could result in a reduction on our dependence on medications -- and greatly lower healthcare costs. Ecotherapists and naturopathic doctors have known the healing power of nature and natural herbs and oils for decades.

As a nature-lover and forest steward, I have known for years of the power of nature to heal. Just getting outside to the sights and scents of nature is enough to lift my spirits and brighten my day. But it is one thing to feel the healing powers and another to read the scientific research that builds a very strong case for the life-saving, life-enhancing, nature of nature.

What can getting out in nature do for you? Read on.

Five Way Nature Helps Heal Us

1. Nature Helps Fight Depression, PTSD, Relieve Anxiety
Nature is awe-inspiring for many people, but not surprisingly, research has found that being out in nature has even more profound effects in soothing your mind and soul. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that subjects who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, such as a forest or nature park, had lower activity in an area of the brain associated with depression than people who walked in urban areas. Nature, at a minimum, seems to lift people's spirits, say the authors of the study, but negative ions -- oxygen atoms with an extra electron -- found in forests may also contribute to reducing depression symptoms. For example, in a typical building, there are less than 100 negative ions per cubic centimeter, but near a waterfall such as Yosemite Falls, negative ions can easily exceed 100,000 per cubic centimeter.

Another study found that just 30 minutes of weekly exposure to nature reduced depression prevalence by up to 7 percent. Studies with veterans by the Great Outdoor Lab have seen great results in nature exposure reducing PTSD, with one study showing a 35 percent reduction of PTSD symptoms after a single two-day rafting trip.

2. Nature Helps Lower Blood Pressure
If you are one of the 1 in 3 Americans affected by high blood pressure, taking time to venture out into nature has been shown to be good for your heart. A large-scale study at the University of Queensland, Australia, found that about 10 percent of people with high blood pressure could get it completely under control without medications if they simply spent 30 minutes or more in a park at least once a week.

Besides the tranquility and improved air quality of natural spaces, some scientists also believe that the phytoncides trees release lowers blood pressure by repressing the body's flight or right response, which stresses the body... as well as reducing the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Phytoncides seem to offer many health-related benefits.

3. Nature Promotes Cancer-Fighting Cells
Having lost both parents to cancer, and knowing how many people die annually from cancer, I need to believe in the power of nature to help ward off cancer. Is it the walking, the fresh air -- or ...

A study at Nippon Medical School found that when people walk through a forest, they inhale those phytoncides from the trees -- which then increase the number of natural killer (NK) cells; these NK cells are a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system, which are associated with a lower risk of cancer. NK cells are also known for fighting inflammation, which has a role in many major health issues.

Monthly forest walks could be an important lifestyle factor in the prevention of cancer as well as helpful therapy for people diagnosed with cancer.

4. Nature Helps With Attention-Deficit Disorders
Short trips into nature can actually help improve concentration and attention. A study at the University of Michigan found that people improved their short-term memory by 20 percent after a nature walk... and another study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discovered that children with ADHD who took a 20-minute walk in a park (without their medications), were able to concentrate much better after the nature walk.

5. Nature Promotes Cognitive Functioning
Studies show time spent in nature helps restore human psychology, promoting recovery from mental fatigue and improving cognitive functioning -- though a process called Attention Restoration Therapy, coined by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in their book, The Experience of Nature. Combine walking and nature and the results are even more interesting. In a University of Michigan study, researchers found that participants who walked in nature for 50 minutes performed significantly better cognitive functioning than those who walked the same amount of time in an urban setting.

What are Phytoncides?
Phytoncide is a substance released by trees (and other plants) and generally means the aroma of the forest. "Phyton" means "plant" in Latin, and "cide" means to exterminate. Phytoncides play an important role in tree/plant immunity, and are produced to help trees protect themselves from harmful insects and germs.

Final Thoughts on How Nature Can Help Us Lead Happier, Healthier Lives

These new discoveries (or renewed discoveries) on the power of nature to heal us should be a wakeup call for both how many pills we pop for controling health-related symptomsd, as well as doing more to preserve our natural spaces... our own health is dependent on the health and availability of our natural environment.

What are you waiting for? Get out in nature today! Make it a habit to spend 30 minutes daily basking in the glory and healing powers of nature... naturally.

See also our sisiter site, Empowering Retreat, for tips on how to get started exercising, dieting, and improving your health and wellness.

Nature-Healing Articles and Links

EmpoweringSites.com CEO Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is an educator, author, and blogger, as well as founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including EmpoweringAdvice.com. Dr. Hansen has been helping empower people to achieving success his entire adult life. He is also founder of EnhanceMyVocabulary.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EmpoweringRetreat.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, teaching business and marketing at the college level for more than 25 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on Google+, as well as Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.


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