Nature: Side Effects May Include Getting Off Your Ass

Laurie Marks Science & Medicine Leave a Comment

Sorry to have missed last month’s post. I was completing my certification training and am glad to be back!

Have you seen the Nature Rx ads? The title of this post comes from one of them. Do they take the message too far? Before you answer, consider how little time we are spending in nature. The EPA reports a mere 8% of our time. That’s 87% of our time indoors and 6% of our time in cars. From my perspective as a Yoga Therapist, our lack of connection to nature is affecting us at all levels of our being: physical, physiological, mental, emotional and spiritual.

Think about your experiences in nature. Gazing for the first time at the Maroon Bells in Fall, seeing the Chianti hills of Tuscany bathed in early morning light and the male Orca with dorsal fins up to seven feet tall off the coast of the San Juan Islands, my eyes welled up with tears, my breathing changed and I felt a deep sense of awe, peace, contentment.

I am not alone. Brought on by large scale health problems such as obesity, depression and yes, pervasive nearsightedness, science is now proving that nature can make us not only healthier and happier but also, smarter.

  • A Stanford researcher found that nature walkers, not the city walkers, showed decreased activity in the part of the brain tied to depressive rumination – they “beat themselves up less”
  • Environmental scientists at the University of Michigan found that a 50 minute walk in an arboretum improved executive attention skills such as short term memory, while walking along a city street did not
  • Dutch researchers found a lower incidence of 15 diseases—including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines—in people who lived within about a half mile of green space
  • An epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow in Scotland found less disease and death in people who lived near parks or other green space – whether they used them or not. There is a restorative effect and for low income people, a social leveling effect.
  • Officers at an Oregon correctional facility report calmer behavior in solitary confinement prisoners who exercise in a room where nature videos are playing
  • fMRI images of brains from volunteers looking at urban scenes showed more blood flow to the area of the brain that processes fear and anxiety; the brains of volunteers looking at nature scenes showed more blood flow to the area of the brain that processes altruism and empathy according to Korean researchers

What you’ve probably suspected, as researchers have, is that nature works primarily by lowering stress. One of the researchers believes it is because nature is our ancestral home.

“Measurements of stress hormones, respiration, heart rate, and sweating suggest that short doses of nature—or even pictures of the natural world—can calm people down and sharpen their performance”

Personally, years after having given up treadmills, I find there to be a powerful happiness effect from walking outside. And I can tell the difference when I’ve walked at least some of my route through the park versus straight city walking.

SOMETHING FOR YOU TO TRY: So grab a “nature buddy” – some one to hold you accountable for getting outside – ideally beyond the city streets – and start moving! Be attentive to how you feel during and after. Notice how you sleep and eat, how you interact with yourself and others. Write these things down so you are mindful of how beneficial it can be.

But wait! Before you sign off, what started my riff was researching where I’d like to take my first group of ten students on retreat. I’d like to elevate the experiences, making them more unique. Where would you like to go? Comment below! 


Source: National Geographic This is Your Brain on Nature


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