Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Back to Nature, Back to Health

So spring is here.  There are no excuses weather-wise.  The weather is not too hot, not too cold.  Get yourself out there and enjoy some nature!  Why?  Why do people hug trees, climb every mountain, sing songs about rainbows?  Because there is something about those natural spaces that is invigorating, awe-inspiring, and challenging beyond that aerobics class, that treadmill run, that stationary cycling session.

There is a very well-published study done in Japan where they compared walkers in nature to walkers in general.  Those who walked in the woods had lower cortisol levels (this is the stress hormone being associated with belly fat, heart disease, lower immune function, etc.) and other stress hormones.  The nature walkers also had lower blood pressure and higher levels of immunity (measured by the amount of killer cells).  The more natural the space is, the better the results.  So, a walk in a city park is not as effective as a hike in the woods.

Here's what I recommend:  do your walk, your run, your bike ride in as natural an outdoor space as you can during those workdays.  Then, on the weekend, get out there and find a new space to hike, to paddle, to walk, to run, to cycle, whatever!  Try someplace new as often as you can.  There are books that give you guides in your area.  For example, 50 Hikes within 50 Miles (60 in 60 for some) is a book series that many cities have, so you can keep your drive to an hour and find a new patch of nature to explore!

But don't just take a walk, paddle, or ride in nature, get out there and live in it for a few days and really get some benefits!  Take a camping trip, stay in a cabin, relax at the seashore with as little modern day interruptions as possible.  Immerse yourself in a natural experience as often as you can!  Plan an outdoor-focused vacation (and I don't mean an outdoor water park :-).

There is a whole psychology focus with nature as the center of mental health.  It's called ecopsychology.  This is a psychological perspective that believes a deep connection to nature is healing.  That when we see the beauty of the sky our faith returns and grows.  When we experience the amazing stature of the tress, we see the bigger picture and our smallness in this universe is less pressing, less worrisome.  When we see that animals can function so well in being present, in the moment, at peace with the past and the future, we see that we too can return to this ease and simplicity.

How will you get yourself back to nature this week?

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