The Free and Natural Therapy We Miss Every Day

There is just something about a choir of birds or the rushing of the waves against the beach that calms our inner selves.

The reasons why watching a sunset or listening to rain on a tin roof seems to lower blood pressure have been studied for centuries. Sadly, in the last few hundred years, there has been a tremendous disengagement of humans from the natural world.

This move away from nature was brought about by a huge migration of people from rural areas into cities. While this move, for many, may have seemed necessary and good, it came at a price. It has been proven that too much time in artificially-induced environments may cause fatigue and reduce one’s quality of life. Some even go so far as to say that humans are not rightly adaptable to such synthetic environments.

What happens when we surround ourselves with concrete, without any interaction with nature apart from the stray pigeon and maybe a few rodents? What happens when our air is clouded with smog and the sunset is taken for granted?

Medical technology continues to improve the ability we have to fight global infectious diseases, but public health strategies have had a difficult time keeping up with what industrialization and urbanization have brought from a health perspective. It is clear that traditional models of health are ill equipped to deal with the current risks.

Researchers from disciplines such as ecology, psychology, psychiatry and biology are now taking more time to reconsider the connection between mankind and our physical and social environments.

Health Benefits of Being in Nature

By far, the most cited benefit of getting out in nature is stress reduction. Taking the time to notice and interact with nature has a significant impact on blood pressure, heart rate and even the immune system. Plants emit phytoncides to protect themselves from rotting and from insects. These chemicals appear to benefit humans as well as plants.

A study was done in Japan, where visiting natural places such as parks is now regarded as highly therapeutic. On one day, study participants walked through a forest or wooded area for a few hours while others walked in a city area. The groups traded places on the second day. The findings revealed that being among nature lowered cortisol levels, pulse rates and blood pressure.

Other studies have shown that visiting parks and forests increases white blood cell count. In one study, men who walked for two hours in the woods had 50% more of these disease-fighting cells.

lakeAccording to the National Park Service, the number of visits to our national parks was lower in 2010 than it was ten years earlier, and even lower than in 1987 and 1988. There were are now fewer campers and fewer youth heading outside to enjoy nature. The Outdoor Foundation created a report on youth in which they attributed the lack of time spent outdoors to the rising rates of childhood obesity.

At one time, hunting, fishing, bird watching, camping and hiking were recreational activities embraced by individuals and families. Today, there is competition between nature and technology, and sadly, technology is winning.

While you don’t have to become a rock climber or an avid sportsman to enjoy and benefit from the sights and sounds of nature, it is a good idea to make some time to get outdoors and appreciate the natural world around you. Take a walk, have a picnic, find a local place to hike or even sit and watch the birds for a while – it all counts!

Without more education about the benefits of being in nature and preserving the natural world around us, both the environment and the health of Americans will suffer.

So, lace up your running shoes and get out there!

-The Alternative Daily


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