Last year around this time I shared a video health benefits of nature so I thought it was high time I wrote an article twelve months later! Plus this is a topic I love to speak and write about as you may have already noticed.
I've just recently come back from the West Coast and it was not for business, it seems most of the travel I've been doing the last 18 months has been related to workshops and book signings. This trip was completely for pleasure! Since Walker and I aren't doing our usual trip to visit his Dad in Austria that we do every summer (because that's a bit too far to travel when I'm in my third trimester) we decided to sneak in a "babymoon" before she arrives :).
We spent most of our babymoon on Vancouver Island. We were truly blown away by the epic beauty of nature: the lushness of the forests, the smell of the fresh air and the beauty of the ocean.
The 8 Health Benefits of Nature
1. Sunshine Vitamin D
When the sun's rays hit your skin you produce vitamin D which is absolutely essential for a healthy body. Adequate sunshine vitamin supports bone health, helps prevent of depression, is anti-inflammatoryand therefore it is an anti-cancer nutrient and supports the immune system. Being outside in nature daily ensures you get a dose of this nourishing nutrient the sun provides. Of course, moderation is key and you don't want to be baking yourself in the sun either! Learn more about sun protection in this article.
2. Improves mental health and well-being.
Have you ever noticed how good you feel after a hike in nature? There are boatloads of research on the link between well-being and nature. This is pretty obvious given the fact most people don't post photos of concrete buildings in their office cubicle but instead post photos of beaches, ocean, trees, lakes and forests. Going for a walk in a park or a trail and taking in the smells of a forest promote the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Many people suffer from depression as a result of inadequate levels of these neurotransmitters. So next time you're feeling down instead of eating a bowl of ice cream, go for a walk in nature!
Studies suggest that even just short bouts of nature can have a positive effect on mental well-being as published by Dutch researchers in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Speaking of walking, the photo below was from a hike we went on near Ucluelet. All the trees on this ocean cove were severely bent like this from the epic forces of winds. Luckily when we were there we did not experience those crazy winds otherwise I might have blown away!
3. Prevents childhood obesity
Over the past twenty to thirty years childhood obesity rates have risen dramatically. Processed foods and sugars are to blame, but also to blame is lack of outdoor activity. This might be an obvious one but the American Journal of Preventative Medicine shows that children who are active outdoors are less prone to obesity than their counterparts that spend hours inside in front of their TVs and computers.
When your little ones are too young to play outside by themselves why not strap them to your chest with an awesome baby carrier and go for a nature walk! Teaching them about nature just by exposing them to it when they are young will make it much more likely they will appreciate nature when they are older. This also means they will be less likely to spend hours playing video games.
4. Stress buster
Being in nature, even for a short time has been shown to buffer the negative effects of the dreaded stresshormone cortisol according to research published in Environment and Behavior. Being in nature puts you in a more relaxed state!
So if you've had an awful day at work, the best thing you can do is strap on your walking shoes and head for a nearby park, or better yet, walk home from the office and make a pit stop at your favourite park. This also has to do with the fact, as per my previous point #2 that nature improves our mental health and well-being.
5. Keep your heart healthy
You already know that regular cardiovascular exercise helps us keep our hearts and circulatory systems strong and healthy. Our ticker thrives on exercise because it is a muscle after all. If you don't work all your muscles, including your heart, it becomes weak.
Not surprisingly, according to a study published in the International Journal of Health Research, exercising outside has greater health benefits than exercising inside. In fact, the research found that people exercising outdoors were shown to have lower blood pressure, higher self-esteem, and improved mood compared to indoor exercisers.
I remember this all too well when I was training for a half marathon. I felt completely different the days I ran on the treadmill versus the days I ran outside.
6. Prevention of Alzheimer's & Dementia
Unfortunately, in North America despite the advancement of modern medicine, our elderly population is suffering from more Alzheimer's and dementia than ever before. My paternal grandmother died with Alzheimer's but when I visited her at the nursing home and we would go outside for a walk in the garden, she was ALL smiles :)
And science has shown us there is a definitive link. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias, showed that long-suffering dementia and Alzheimer’s patients are known to have decreased symptoms following time in gardens or being exposed to horticultural therapy. Isn't that wonderful?
7. Increases exercise duration.
When you take your workout outside whether it's walking, biking or hiking, you are more inclined to spend longer doing it than if you were inside a gym. This means more physical activity overall which reduces the risk of obesity by keeping your waistline trim!
When I used to live in the burbs I had a beautiful trail all along a river pretty much in my backyard. It was so much easier to run and I paid far less attention to the time when I ran on those trails versus running on city streets in urban areas. This meant my overall time spent outside was much higher.
8. Makes us joyous!
Back to point number two, being in nature means less time being exposed to wifi and electronic devices otherwise known as invisible pollution inside your home. Researchers have found (as I talked about in my video) that being in nature lights up areas of the brain associated with love, pleasure and empathy. This means nature makes us more joyous human beings!
Even though Vancouver island was definitely a magical place, no matter what city you live in I believe you can find beauty everywhere if you just look for it! Even in my hometown of Toronto where the downtown is dominated by concrete, it doesn't take long to find big trees, hiking trails and be surrounded by nature. In fact, Brickworks is a lovely place to visit for a visit to the farmers market and then a walk through the park afterward.
Have a joyous day!