How Nature Into Your Daily Life is Therapy
Today I got an unexpected (and needed) dose of nature therapy, and it couldn’t have come at a better time after a few weeks of a busy, busy office. It seems like this flu season is finally winding down, and the office didn’t have any kids scheduled to be seen after 2pm, and no-one was calling with any illnesses. I told my staff that I’ll have my cell phone with me and I headed to my friend’s boat at the marina. Thirty minutes later, I was sitting on deck, sharing a beautiful view of the water with a small group of sea lions that were swimming around the boat.
Then I got a text from my sister asking me, “If my over-due blog article was done yet”….
“The one about the benefits of Nature?”
“Yes, you promised it yesterday”…
“I’m doing field research on it right now”
“Lemme guess… On your friend’s boat?”
“I’ll have the article done tonight…”
So, I sat at a table on deck and finished the article on my iPad and quickly realized that I was being energized by nature while writing about being energized by nature!
Nature Can Make You Feel Better
We know that being in nature can make you FEEL better. There was a study in Japan that compared taking a short walk for 15 minutes either in the forest or in the city. The forest walkers described an increase in energy, improved mood, and feelings of vigor and vitality. The city walkers did not. So, even if you’re in the city, try to find the nearest park and go get your “daily dose” of nature. Feeling better is one thing, but are there any real, measurable health benefits? The answer is YES!
Numerous studies show that living in a rural or coastal environment can reduce overall mortality, cardiovascular disease, and depression.
Specific study results have shown that time in nature:
- Increases life expectancy of seniors
- Certain anti-cancer cells are increased by visiting a forest, but not a city.
- Certain immune disorders are more common in urban settings than in rural settings: Allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, MS, and psychiatric disorders.
- Viewing scenes of nature was associated with increased levels of serotonin – the “happy chemical”. With an effect similar to meditation, the anxiety centers of the brain were calmed down. As an aside, whenever I’m considering prescribing a serotonin-boosting medication for any of my patients, I make it very clear that they also need to learn the skills needed to naturally boost their own serotonin as well. Since most of the body’s serotonin is made in the GI tract, improving their gut health is paramount – but that’s the subject for another time.
- In a well-known study of patients recovering from abdominal surgery, those whose rooms overlooked the trees had fewer complications, required less pain meds and got out of the hospital faster than those whose windows faced a brick wall.
These are some of the reasons I have been “prescribing” 15 minutes of nature each morning to all of my patients with certain brain issues (ADD, Anxiety, Depression to name a few). A vigorous walk, outside, in the morning sun. I call it my triple-morning therapy because we are taking care of three needs at once:
- Vitamin D – really important for many systems of the body.
- Sunlight in the eyes – getting some of this in the morning will wake-up the brain and improve your sleep at night.
- Increased heart rate – of course, the positive effects of some good exercise are too many to count. Even after my most sleep-deprived nights, just a quick walk in the morning sun will make me way more productive the rest of the day.
This “nature effect” is not just because you tend to be more active when you’re in nature. The studies showed that these benefits were still there without exercise!
We’ve designed our office so that in each room when I’m talking to patients, I am facing toward the window. This helps keep up my mental clarity. Studies show that office workers that were able to see a view of nature out their window enjoyed their jobs more, had better health, and reported greater life satisfaction.
A quick aside: While most of this article was written quickly and energetically while enjoying a nice view from the deck of my friend’s boat, the sun eventually went down and with it, the temperature. I had to retreat back inside, and as my view of the water faded with the sunlight – so did my energy. My sister had to nag me for several more days to get this article done 😉
Ideas to Get Nature into Your Life
Apart from my “triple-morning therapy” here are some other easy ways to get nature into your life:
- Gardening – Sure, I could just hire someone to cut the grass and trim our backyard. However, I’ve found that taking an hour a week and doing it myself gives me a massive boost to my energy and my pride. Looking back at the trim and tidy planters gives me a sense of accomplishment that is more valuable than any money I could have earned in that same time.
- Plants in the office – easy to do, even if you don’t have a green thumb. I have a “lucky bamboo” on my desk and some succulents on the wall.
- Find a park – even if you have to drive a bit to get to one, do it. A quick picnic lunch with your significant other or your family. Or maybe just a quick walk while you take care of business calls – I guarantee those calls will be more productive if you’re walking through a park.
- Hang photos – Any rooms without windows should have photos or paintings of beautiful landscapes. One of the rooms in my office has no windows, and so I hung a very large poster of one of my favorite Caribbean islands. It’s actually one of my favorite rooms!
Dr. Jim Sears
James M. Sears, MD or “Dr. Jim,” as he is known in the office, is a pediatrician in private practice with his father and brother in Southern California. Dr. Jim earned his medical degree at St. Louis University School of Medicine in 1996 and completed his pediatric residency at Northeastern Ohio University College of Medicine, Tod Children’s Hospital in Youngstown, Ohio in 1999. During his residency, he received the honor of “Emergency Medicine Resident of the Year.” He has been featured on Parenting.com’s “Ask the Experts,” and has written for “Parenting” and “BabyTalk” magazines. Dr. Sears’ medical advice has been featured on “Dr. Phil” and the PBS parenting series, “Help Me Grow.”