“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
Henry David Thoreau
With most of us spending many hours a day glued to screens, going outdoors and taking a walk in nature is one of the easiest most simple ways of maintaining your physical and mental health, according to a growing body of research.
What avid walkers have known all along is being confirmed by science. Walking in the green and blue spaces of nature is healing on multiple levels.
Trees emit airborne chemicals, called phytoncides, used to protect themselves from insects. As we breathe in these phytoncides, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a particular kind of white blood cell, called natural killer (NK) cells.
The term forest bathing or shinrin-yoku became popular in Japan in the 1980s. It is basically immersing or meditating in nature. Against the background of the increasing number of people with subhealth the Japanese researchers found that shinrin-yoku not only brings people with subhealth a healthy lifestyle but also offers complementary therapies to the sick. Subhealth is described as a condition between health and disease.
In the United States researchers monitored the intimate connection of trees to our physical health after the emerald ash borer decimated over a million trees in 15 states between 1990-2007. Less tree cover was linked to over 6,000 deaths from respiratory disease.
Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol weaken the body’s natural defense systems, making it susceptible to cardiovascular and other diseases. By spending time in the green and blue spaces of nature you can reduce those stress hormones in your body significantly.
We can interact directly with nature by opening our senses to the sound of bird song, the aroma of herbs and plants, the rushing waters of a creek, or simply meditating on the beauty of a flower.
The British Psychological Society has studied the benefits of outdoor therapy, especially for care workers. Stabilization, mindfulness, and other sensory exercises like walking while paying attention to the five senses have been found to be particularly beneficial when compared to indoor therapy sessions.
We easily become disconnected from the natural world by spending most of our lives in offices and consuming digital media. This inevitably leads to a sedentary lifestyle. Coupled with lack of exercise, a poor diet of processed food and stress the modern lifestyle is exceptionally unhealthy. Average longevity has increased over the years but few people are asking the question about the quality of life. Typical metabolism diseases linked to lifestyle such as diabetes 2, obesity, cardiac disease, cancer, dementia and alzheimer are on the increase in most industrial nations.
How much low-impact exercise do we need per day?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends at least 10,000 steps per day to reach a minimum fitness level. Most people working in office jobs are very far from reaching this target. Typically people working in a Call Center walk less than 1,500 steps per day. Studies conducted by the German Sport University in Cologne found that a low impact exercise programe for adolescents suffering from depression had a significantly positive effect on their mental state and reduced the risk of them suffering from depression later in life.
As the poet, artist and writer Jay Woodman said: “When you truly sing, you sing yourself free. When you truly dance, you dance yourself free. When you walk in the mountains or swim in the sea, again, you set yourself free.”
Reino Gevers – Author – Mentor – Speaker
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