We all know innately that getting out in nature makes us feel better. So why don’t we do it more often? We sit in our air conditioned homes, work in our cubicle offices from 9 to 5 (or longer) and exercise in environmentally controlled gyms, all in the name of comfort, convenience and productivity. We think that if we put in the time and effort we will get more done. And if it’s raining out, forget it! Who wants to get wet? Or hot or cold, for that matter.
In reality we are meant to interact with our environment. Our bodies are designed to react to temperature, light, color and the microbes in the air. When we get too hot for example, it triggers our sweat glands to cool us off and detoxify through our skin, the largest organ in our body. People who exercise outside burn more calories, have more energy, stick to their workout more consistently and consume more oxygen, allowing them to release more toxins from their body, than their indoor counterparts. All because contending with the elements leads to exerting more energy.
It’s not about exertion though. You need not put out too much effort to reap the rewards of being in nature. In fact the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, known in the United States as forest bathing, is a therapy based on slowing down and taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the forest. There are certification programs for this and people pay big bucks to join guided group workshops. Honestly do we really need to pay someone to tell us how to enjoy nature? Just step out in your back yard, go to a park or take a walk in the woods. Commercialism aside, the evidence shows that this practice can lower heart rates, blood pressure, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Furthermore, it has been found that participants have stronger immune systems. While in nature we breath in anti-microbial compounds called phytoncides from forest plants which ward off harmful microbes and help us relax and focus.
If that’s not enough, studies have also found that people who regularly spend time in nature are more generous in the decisions they make and more outwardly focused and supportive of others. A study by the Public Library of Science also found that after four days and three nights in nature and completely disconnected from technology, subjects’ creativity and problem solving ability increased by 50 percent.
We don’t really need a bunch of scientific studies to tell us that getting out among the trees and plants or going to the beach will help us relax and give us renewed energy. That is of course why nature preserves and seaside resorts are such popular vacation destinations. All it takes is one whiff of pine or the wind blowing in your hair to knock the tension down a few notches.
When my son was a child, getting outdoors daily was vital to his temperament. Cooped up inside too long, he became cranky, obstinate and sometimes aggressive; making our family life miserable. So even in the dead of winter with piles of snow outside we would make a trip to the playground or a game of tag in the back yard a daily ritual. Even now at 21 I can tell when my kid has not been getting his daily dose of fresh air, so I encourage him to go for a good run or play a round of golf.
In the traditional culture and practices of Ayurveda, a person’s health depends on being in tune with the cycles of nature. It is essential for a strong immune system and digestive system, as well as physical strength and energy. Without it stress, excessive cravings and ultimately disease will ensue. By syncing your routines and habits, like when you wake up and go to bed and eating locally and seasonally with your environment, you are more likely to have more energy and have fewer health concerns.
So whether you move your yoga practice to the beach, take your lunch to the local park or simply take a break from the AC and get outside a few times a day, you are contributing to your well-being. Use all of your senses to take in the colors, scents and feel of nature and watch your stress levels go down and your energy go up. You might even find that you are more comfortable, more productive and life is a whole lot easier than it was in that environmentally controlled routine you created to avoid a few discomforts and inconveniences.
Steffanie Lynch is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and freelance writer for coach4wellbeing.com helping people to find their unique diet and lifestyle choices to live a life of optimal health and well-being. She believes that digestive health is the foundation of a healthy body and can be found interacting with her local community whether it be eating local and in-season produce, hiking nearby wilderness trails, or teaching healthy cooking classes. Send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org .