The Most Natural Antidote for Physical and Mental Health May be Missing in Your Life
I have had the benefit of “throat clearing” five decades to see change in society. I’ve learned about many modern medical advances and pharmaceutical cures for things that ail us. Yet a remarkable and less than quantifiable feel good signal has waved at me for the entirety of my years. Chances are, you have noticed this too.
I grew up on a farm with animals, crops, sprawling pastures, and mounds of dirt that sprouted vegetables. Once a week trips to the grocery were reserved for items we couldn’t grow or preserve ourselves. My playtime consisted of exploring the woodlands, building forts, collecting wildflowers for jewelry, and making my almost edible looking mud pies. I took care of runt pigs and orphaned bunnies, taught myself to ride a horse, and treated my dog and cats like people who needed beds and naps.
My kids played outside with less Flintstone style accommodations. They had play equipment and pretended to save one another from incredible danger all day. My heart did a flip every time they designed houses of branches and forts with blankets and brooms. My heart did a dive when they packed most of my tools and household utensils into the woods to make their own “hangout”. But truth be told, I’d never seen kids glow from the thrill of nature quite like that.
Today we are driving everywhere, stalled in traffic between drive-throughs and microwave meals, and our kids (and adults) play from the edge of a sofa with virtual friends. Using our brains is often more financially rewarding than using our muscles and we can solve most health problems with telehealth and medications.
Research has clarified what we all notice occurring around us over time; we are living the bulk of our lives inside. Inside cars, offices, gyms, restaurants, schools, and of course houses with computers and flat-screen televisions. Going outside usually means sitting on the porch or patio.
Throughout my experiences, I have felt at my best when surrounded in nature. Breathing in fresh air with tree and floral scents is not only a pleasant experience, it gives me energy and settles my soul. The cool thing is that science and research has found a way to quantify that after all.
Studies have proven that being outdoors among plants and rich sources of nature lowers our blood pressure, improves mood, and elevates endorphins (feel-good chemical). BUT what I recently found impressive is the research that went further to investigate whether our supply of white blood cells that specifically fight off tumors and virus-infected cells (NK blood cells) can be altered by being immersed in nature.
Qing Li from the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo wanted to decipher the connection by going beyond previous studies of subjective reports about stress, anxiety, and depression reduction and exposure to nature. His work determined that those very white blood cells that are critical to keeping us going strong do increase with a minimum of one hour in nature.
He further found that the NK blood count increased fifteen percent in individuals and that response occurred due to the phytoncides or really nice tree smells. In contrast, those cells did not change when subjects took an hour long stroll through city streets. Of course, other peer-reviewed studies verify these findings and other connections with how our bodies respond to the natural ingredients found in the thick of nature including soil like what I used to make all those mud pies.
I doubt we can all rush into the deep recesses of the forest each day, but knowing that absorbing the free gift of scents and sights of the great outdoors can make a difference in our lives. Purposely choosing to visit our national parks or walk through the local hiking trails with a pal can add up to a big difference in our overall health and happiness.
Tuning into the beauty that surrounds us each day can center us so much more than getting too carried away with the piles of social media and the revolving door of commutes and obligations. If you want to reduce stress and authentically boost your immunity for a longer and more robust life, try making simple changes that add up over time.
I encourage you to explore the great outdoors and maybe even teach the little people in your life to make forts and mud pies.