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The Life-Saving Nature of Nature

Learn the scientific research behind five ways that being out in nature offers amazing healing and health benefits. Get out in nature today!

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by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

"I go into nature to be soothed and healed and have my senses put in order," John Burroughs, American naturalist and nature essayist. (Early 1900s.)

"Nature is the one place where miracles not only happen, but they happen all the time," Thomas Wolfe, American novelist of the early twentieth century. (Early 1900s.)

"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," John Muir, American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States. (Late 1800s.)
Nature Health Benefits

The Japanese have a practice of walking through forests as a way of reducing stress. Called shinrin-yoku, which roughly translates to forest bathing, it involves opening the senses to the woody aroma of the trees and other plants, the green scenery, and the soothing sounds of streams and waterfalls... because they know that all of these elements play a part in promoting better health.

I have known for years of the power of nature to heal. Just getting outside to the sights and scents of nature is enough to lift my spirits and brighten my day. But it is one thing to feel the healing powers and another to read the scientific research that builds a very strong case for the life-saving, life-enhancing, nature of nature.

What can getting out in nature do for you? Read on.

Five Way Nature Helps Heal Us

1. Nature Helps Fight Depression, Relieve Anxiety
Nature is awe-inspiring for many people, but not surprisingly, research has found that being out in nature has even more profound effects. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that subjects who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, such as a forest or nature park, had lower activity in an area of the brain associated with depression than people who walked in urban areas. Nature, at a minimum, seems to lift people's spirits, say the authors of the study, but negative ions -- oxygen atoms with an extra electron -- found in forests may also contribute to reducing depression symptoms. For example, in a typical building, there are less than 100 negative ions per cubic centimeter, but near a waterfall such as Yosemite Falls, negative ions can easily exceed 100,000 per cubic centimeter.

2. Nature Helps Lower Blood Pressure
If you are one of the 1 in 3 Americans affected by high blood pressure, taking time to venture out into nature has been shown to be good for your heart. A large-scale study at the University of Queensland, Australia, found that about 10 percent of people with high blood pressure could get it completely under control without medications if they simply spent 30 minutes or more in a park at least once a week.

Besides the tranquility and improved air quality of natural spaces, some scientists also believe that the phytoncides trees release lowers blood pressure by repressing the body's flight or right response, which stresses the body... as well as reducing the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

3. Nature Promotes Cancer-Fighting Cells
Having lost both parents to cancer, and knowing how many people die annually from cancer, I need to believe in the power of nature to help ward off cancer. Is it the walking, the fresh air -- or ...

A study at Nippon Medical School found that when people walk through a forest, they inhale those phytoncides from the trees -- which then increase the number of natural killer (NK) cells; these NK cells are a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system, which are associated with a lower risk of cancer. NK cells are also known for fighting inflammation, which has a role in many major health issues.

Monthly forest walks could be an important lifestyle factor in the prevention of cancer as well as helpful therapy for people diagnosed with cancer.

4. Nature Helps With Attention-Deficit Disorders
Short trips into nature can actually help improve concentration and attention. A study at the University of Michigan found that people improved their short-term memory by 20 percent after a nature walk... and another study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discovered that children with ADHD who took a 20-minute walk in a park (without their medications), were able to concentrate much better after the nature walk.

5. Nature Promotes Cognitive Functioning.
Studies show time spent in nature helps restore human psychology, promoting recovery from mental fatigue and improving cognitive functioning -- though a process called "Attention Restoration Therapy," coined by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in their book, The Experience of Nature. Combine walking and nature and the results are even more interesting. In a University of Michigan study, researchers found that participants who walked in nature for 50 minutes performed significantly better cognitive functioning than those who walked the same amount of time in an urban setting.

What are Phytoncides?

Phytoncide is a substance released by trees (and other plants) and generally means the aroma of the forest. "Phyton" means "plant" in Latin, and "cide" means to exterminate. Phytoncides play an important role in tree/plant immunity, and are produced to help trees protect themselves from harmful insects and germs.

Final Thoughts on Nature's Healing Powers

There new discoveries on the power of nature to heal us should be a wakeup call for doing more to preserve our natural spaces... our own health is dependent on the health and availability of our natural environment.

What are you waiting for? Get out in nature today! Make it a habit to spend 30 minutes daily basking in the glory and healing powers of nature... naturally.

Additional Sources

  1. Immerse Yourself in a Forest for Better Health
  2. Health Benefits of Forest Therapy
  3. A Walk in the Woods: Evidence Builds That Time Spent in the Natural World Benefits Human Health

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Avid wellness guru Dr. Randall S. Hansen Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., is an avid bicyclist, adventurist, environmentalist, and student of wellness and photography, with a mission of empowering others to lead great lives. He is Founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites. Dr. Hansen is also the founder and caretaker of this site, EmpoweringRetreat.com, as well as founder of EmpoweringAdvice.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com or reach him by email at CEO(at)empoweringsites.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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