First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day has become a global symbol for the environmental protection movement. For some, it’s an entire month dedicated to preserving the environment we live in, ensuring that we, and our children, have a healthy and sustainable future. And when it comes to our personal health, it’s important to remember that connecting with nature ought to be something we do every day. After all, studies have shown that fostering a connection with nature has profound benefits for our health.
“Nature is fuel for the soul”, says Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “Often when we feel depleted, we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature.” In a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Ryan and his research team conducted five separate experiments. They found that test subjects consistently felt more energetic when they spent time in natural settings. Their findings concluded that being outside in nature for 20 minutes in a day was enough to boost vitality levels significantly.
Japanese scientists have long been at the forefront of identifying and validating the health benefits of nature. Inspired by ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices, Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” is a term coined by the Japanese government in 1982. Unlike its description, it has nothing to do with water, and revolves around a deceptively simple practice. It involves quietly walking in nature while absorbing the experience pervasively through all five of the senses. Forest bathing has become a standard preventive and restorative medicine treatment in Japan. Researchers found that compared to an urban control group, those who spent prolonged time in nature showed impressive decreases in cortisol level, blood pressure, and heart rate.
Studies from around the world corroborated what the Japanese researchers found: when we spend time in nature, we reap all sorts of benefits. These include:
- Improved short-term memory, concentration, and vision
- Restored mental energy
- Reduced inflammation and stress
- Sharper thinking and creativity
- Improved mental health
- Boosted immune system – with potential to even reduce the chance of certain cancers.
In a time of unprecedented digitization and urbanization, we can be grateful that we live on an island where nature is never too far away. In the enduring words of renowned conservationist John Muir; “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul…Keep close to nature’s heart and break clear away once in a while. Climb a mountain, or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
This April, ‘Ekahi Ornish Lifestyle Medicine wishes you a happy and healthy Earth month!
‘Ekahi Health, a member of the ‘ike family of companies (www.ikehawaii.com), is an innovative healthcare delivery organization that provides comprehensive community-based care focusing on primary care and prevention and wellness. It was the first organization to offer the Ornish program to the people of Hawaii.
Original article by Mimi O’Connor
Content adapted from Ornish Living Magazine, Available online at www.ornishliving.com