Sleeping in a hammock under the stars.
Walking barefoot on dewy grass in the morning.
Sipping coffee by a river.
Telling stories around a fire with good friends, by a moon-lit lake.
Reading an engrossing book in the forest.
Foraging for blackberries while on a walk through the countryside.
How often do you find yourself doing these, or similar, activities? And how does it make you feel when you do? Many of us live our lives in urban areas (54% of us per a 2014 United Nations report), largely disconnected from nature. Too many of us have a major case of "nature deficit disorder". For most of human history we have lived in close connection with nature, but our connection to nature is dwindling. The conveniences of living in cities comes at a price; we are removed from our deep seated need to be connected to nature. And this disconnection can lead to health problems like mood changes and attention problems. And no wonder - what else would we expect from a life spent mostly in stuffy, confined buildings, under artificial lights, largely sedentary and glued to our screens?
So why spend more time in nature? Well, there is increasing research that it is good for your mind and body. Taking a walk in nature can reduce anxiety levels and gardening or playing in the dirt can support your microbiome and even have anti-depressant effects. In Japan, the health benefits of spending time in nature are well known and the practice of "forest bathing" is popular. Forest bathing is the practice of spending time amongst trees for the health benefits. Forest bathing improves sleep, reduces blood pressure, improves blood glucose levels, boosts the immune system, increases energy and improves cardiovascular health. Additionally, it reduces stress, depression, anxiety and anger. The immune boosting benefits are due to the fact that trees produce essential oils that affect our immune system.
You can increase the health benefits of being outside by direct contact with the earth. So, while you're outside, and it is safe to do so, kick off your shoes and walk barefoot for a while. "Earthing" is being in direct contact with the earth, be it walking barefoot, gardening, or sitting on the grass. There is emerging research that indicates that the exchange of electrons while earthing can result in physiological changes such as reduced pain, lowered levels of inflammation, blood thinning effects, increased parasympathetic tone and better sleep. What have you got to lose? Give it a go!
If you live and spend most of your time in the city, even living close to green spaces is good for your health. Just taking a walk in a park for half an hour a week can reduce depression and lower blood pressure. If you have kids, they will benefit cognitively from spending more time in green spaces, or even having greenery around the home.
For those days that you don't get a chance to spend time in nature? Bring some nature into your home! Even bringing more plant life into your home has health benefits. If you have a garden, spending time in your garden or getting your hands dirty and doing some gardening is great for lowering stress levels.
So this month, how about we all spend more time in nature?
I hope you enjoy your time outside!
- Dr. Khaira