Nature is Nurture: 5 Ways Nature Helps us Heal
When COVID -19 hit us back in 2020, it created anxiety levels like we had never seen before. Worry for our loved ones, our work, and our health escalated in varying degrees depending on our different coping skills and support systems.
With all that was going on, an interesting phenomenon occurred; many of us began to get outside to enjoy nature in a big way. Parks and waterways were full of people who had never enjoyed these spaces before. This was partly because ‘outside’ was the safest place to be social (at a distance) and whether we knew it or not, we were doing the best thing for our bodies at that time.
Scientists are only just beginning to realize the positive effects that nature can have on our overall well-being. Although more studies are needed, this is what we know so far:
- It can reset our circadian rhythm
Going outside and letting the sun hit your face in the early morning and at sunset enables more sleep, better quality sleep and enhanced mood. Medical professionals have been using light therapy to treat a variety of disorders since early times, but only now it is better understood.
Using ultraviolet light for the treatment of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is now considered a standard treatment. If you want better quality sleep, you can cut out the middleman by going out for a walk during key moments in the day for at least 30 minutes.
- It purifies our environment
We all breathe better thanks to the forests and trees around us. Trees and plants use carbon dioxide to clean the air and give off oxygen to be used by humans and animals. Because of this, heavily wooded areas tend to experience reduced effects of pollution. If you think of what trees are doing for us as you walk, you can only feel gratitude for their existence.
- It improves our mood
A walk near water or in the forest reduces our stress hormone (cortisol) and releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin (feel-good hormones). The sight of a tree, whether real or even an image, kicks the parasympathetic system into action, which helps us relax.
This is great for hospitals and care homes that can use these images to reduce the anxiety of their patients and/or clients who can’t go outside. Our mood improves and blood pressure goes down when we are in a forest or near blue spaces (ocean, lakes, rivers, streams). The sounds and sights of both green and blue spaces are calming and are being used more by healthcare and governments for a healthier society.
- It can enhance our immunity
We know the profound impact that incorporating Adaptogenic herbs into our wellness routine can have on our immune system but what about being outside? One study compared COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) patients who “forest bathed”, went into the forest for a pre-determined amount of time, and another group who did not. Those who took a stroll amongst the trees were found to have a decreased level of pro-inflammatory cytokines and stress hormones.
Researchers suspect that breathing in phytoncides (chemicals that trees put into the air in order to fight insects) causes our bodies to increase the number and activity of a type of blood cell (NK), which fight cancer and viruses in our bodies. With these healing and calming effects, the act of immersing ourselves in nature literally translates to better health.
- It connects us
The presence of trees in a community can reduce violence. Research has shown that communities with more trees have a lower level of violence. Given that trees increase mood, reduce stress and increase cognitive abilities, this makes sense. When one walks in the woods, if they are stressed, nature calms them. It reminds us that we are part of a larger community and can help us experience a sense of awe, potentially returning to social spaces feeling more connected and able to cooperate with others.
There are many studies on all the effects nature has on our bodies but as interest in this area grows, more data is expected to come. With everything we know and everything we are still learning, it’s a great time to get outside, turn your face to the sun and enjoy all that nature has to offer.