The Healing Powers of Nature
Nature offers many mental and physical health benefits. While many cultures spend time in the outdoors in different ways, the Japanese have developed a culture around spending time in nature.
The Japanese have a dedicated practice called "shinrin-yoku", or forest bathing. Forest bathing has been proven to improve mental and physical health.
According to Park et al. (2010), the health benefits of forest bathing include:
- improves immune system
- lowers blood pressure
- reduces stress
- improves mood
- increases the ability to focus, even in children with A.D.H.D.
- accelerates recovery from surgery or illness
- increases energy level
It's clear that spending time in the forest is good for all elements of your body. The following article describes the way being in nature (out in the woods, on the beach, in the mountains) benefits individuals and groups alike. Nature helps with:
- Physical Remediation
- Mental Health Clarity
- Community Connection
Being in Nature and Your Physical Health
According to the University of East Anglia, prolonged exposure to nature helps reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stress, high blood pressure, premature death, and more. People who are exposed to nature are also more likely to report good health.
The Ulrich Gall Bladder Study
Physician Robert Ulrich divided people after having gall bladder removal into two groups. One group of patients had a view of trees and the other group had a view of a wall. The group that viewed the trees had better pain management, had less negative side effects and remained in the hospital for a shorter amount of time. The majority of studies reveal similar results with plants and nature in hospital rooms.
Nature Boosts the Immune System
The forest boosts the immune system because when we breathe fresh air we take in phytoncides or airborne chemicals that plants secrete. Plants emit these chemicals to protect them from insects. These chemicals have antifungal and antibacterial components that help the plants and humans fight disease.
When people breathe these chemicals, it causes the increase of white blood cells that kill tumors and virus-infected cells within our bodies. One study revealed that after a two to three-day forest bathing, white blood cells increased for 30 days.
Nature and Your Mental Health
It has also been proven that being in nature or viewing scenes of nature has a positive impact on mental health. Viewing nature reduces anger, fear, and stress while increasing positive feelings. Research shows that having a plant in a room reduces anxiety.
Nature and Pleasure
According to a 2006 American Scientist study on how the brain perceives pleasure, a person watching stimuli that included dynamic natural scenes had an increase in the relationship of the mu (opoid) receptors in the visual cortex of the brain. It means that viewing nature is physically and psychologically pleasurable.
Stress Without Nature
On the opposite side of the spectrum, being in a high traffic jam or another stressful environment will cause the production of cortisol by the adrenal glands. A high amount of cortisol inhibits learning along with memory, weakens the immune system, decreases bone density, increases weight gain, blood pressure, and heart disease. All of this contributes to what is known as toxic stress, which is the public health enemy number one.
Environment and A.D.H.D
When it comes to children or adults who suffer from A.D.H.D., the part of the brain that is affected by attention fatigue which is the right prefrontal cortex is not working properly. There have been studies that have revealed kids who spend time in natural outdoor environments have reduced attention fatigue and experienced a reduction in A.D.H.D. symptoms.
"Nature deprivation or a lack of time in the natural world, largely due to hours spent in front of a T.V. or computer screen, has been associated, unsurprisingly, with depression. More unexpected are studies by Weinstein and others that associate screen time with loss of empathy and lack of altruism."— University of Minnesota
During an M.R.I. study, the participants who viewed nature scenes had the areas of their brain associated with empathy and love activated giving the indication that nature induces feelings that make us feel connected to each other and our environment.
There have been numerous studies that have been done that revealed that exercising in forests and looking at trees reduces blood pressure and hormones associated with stress like cortisol and adrenaline. Researchers have concluded that being in a forest or around trees lessened anxiety, depression, anger, confusion, and fatigue. Due to the fact that stress damages the immune system, the stress reduction effects further help the immune system.
In conclusion, the outdoors and nature in general have many health benefits for people. We have only just begun to realize and appreciate how much exposure to nature benefits us. As we evolve and become more advanced in technology, we must remember the healing benefits of being out doors and being in direct contact with nature. "Forest bathing" feels good, no soap required!
Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 18.
New York State. (N.D.) Immerse Yourself in a Forest for Better Health. Department of Environmental Conservation. Retrieved September 22, 2019 from https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/90720.html
Ulrich, RS. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science. 420-421
University of East Anglia. (2018, July 6). It's official -- spending time outside is good for you. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180706102842.htm
University of Minnesota, (N.D.) How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing? Taking Charge of Our Wellbeing. Retrieved September 22, 2019 from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing