Nature Provides Many Health Benefits

The time we choose to spend in nature, can provide us with a host of health benefits.  It not only feels great to be outdoors, but is great for us.  They conducted a huge study involving data from more than 140 studies and 290 million people that revealed exposure to greenspace, or open and undeveloped land with natural vegetation, that led to big reductions in diastolic blood pressure, salivary cortisol and heart rate, along with decreases in Type 2 diabetes and mortality from all causes, and those specifically related to the heart.

Pregnant women had a declined risk of premature birth and the risk of a baby being born small in size for their gestational age.  Those reports of good health rose among those lucky enough to have greenspace exposure.  They found between 66% and 100% of the studies showed that increased greenspace exposure was associated with better health, including improved outcomes for neurological disorder, cancer and respiratory mortality.

It would be really great if our doctor prescribed a green prescription instead of or along with a prescription drug.  This would have substantial benefits and is not new as it was recognized since the early 1800s when these open spaces started to be created in growing cities.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) green spaces are also important to mental health in reducing health inequalities, imploring well-being and aiding in treatment of mental illness.  Some benefits according to the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) is improved mood, improved physical, mental and spiritual health, increased social connection, encouraging active play in children linked to physical, cognitive and social benefits and improved social well-being.

There is also a ParkRx or Park Prescription movement created by a collaboration between the Institute at the Golden Gate, the National Recreation and Park Association and NPS that involves a health or social services provider giving a patient a prescription to spend more time in nature to improve their physical health and well-being.

There is a practice known as Shinrin-yoku in Japan.  This is also called forest bathing or spending time in nature.  The first environment was found to promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity.  The bathing has also shown decreasing symptoms of depression, fatigue, anxiety and confusion in middle-aged men.

Benefits have also been shown for cancer survivors, such as dragon boat racing, natural environment, outdoor adventure programs and therapeutic landscapes.  Exposure to a virtual reality forest with sounds of nature was beneficial for those recovering from physiological stress.  Even the indoor nature environments in a work environment was linked to less job stress and less absence due to sickness.

Grounding, as when you put your bare feet on the ground, exposes you to a supply of antioxidant free radical-busting electrons.  It also helps to reduce pain and alter the numbers of circulating neutrophils and lymphocytes.  Take that hike in the woods or seek out the mountains or a beach.  Combine your exercise time with nature and seek to stay grounded to the Earth.  If this is difficult to do, try adding photos of nature to your indoor space, plant flowerbeds and vegetable gardens and eat natural homegrown foods to connect with the benefits of nature.

Dr Fredda Branyon