Remember mom’s medicine for boredom and bad behavior? “Go outside and play!” An exciting field of research, called the neuroscience of nature, validates Dr. Mom was right about the benefits of play. Enjoying the health effects of a walk in the woods or playing in the park is especially therapeutic in the modern age of windowless work cubicles and the artificial light of computer screens. As a show-me-the-science type of doctor I want to share with my readers how nature heals.
On your way to your nature walk suppose you went by your neighborhood neurologist and got wired with cameras (called functional MRIs) that peer inside your brain to reveal what’s going on in there as you are walking in the woods. Here’s a list of some of the fascinating health effects neuroscientists have discovered:
- decreased heart rate
- more relaxed blood pressure
- increased serotonin
- mellower moods
- decreased stress hormones
- stronger immune system
- fewer fearful thoughts
Neuroscientists dub the beauties of nature “visual valium.” The insightful statement “It’s pleasing to the eyes” also applies to the brain since the eye is simply an extension of the brain. A reminder I often say during my nature walk is: “Eye feel good.”
Imagine inside your body and brain you have command centers full of dials, which are turned up and down and set just right for your physical and mental well-being. These dials are interconnected by chemical emails, hormones, that enable each system to talk to the other. When you walk outside the eye-brain dial says to the heart dial: “Relax, man, you don’t need to beat so hard and fast.” Then it says to the intestinal dials, “Gut feel good!” And even the pain of “itis” illnesses lessens after a walk or swim.
To enjoy the healing effects of nature, turn your desk toward the window, put plants in your office, and frequently turn your swivel chair away from the computer screen to enjoy the window view. To avoid the humped-back posture that is overtaking the ibrain and ibacks of habitual texters and smartphone glarers, here is Dr. Bill’s simple back-friendly remedy: As often as possible look out and up and “say hi to the sky.”