Spending time in nature seems to be something most of us put on the backburner. I know I’ve been guilty of it. Life’s demands just seem to take over. Who has time to go on a hike when you have to go grocery shopping, clean your apartment, and do the laundry? Although it’s not a priority for us, spending time in nature should be. Nature and health go hand in hand. It’s a form of self-care and if we are being completely honest with ourselves, we could all use a little more self-care in our lives.
Nature and Health – Why We Need More Nature
Intuitively, we all know that getting outside is probably good for us. But right now, I’m going to show you exactly how good it can be for you. The below benefits are from the NY State government’s in-depth research (not some hippy blog).
- Boosts immune system
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces stress
- Improves mood
- Increases ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness
- Increases energy level
- Improves sleep
After reading all these benefits, how can you not want to get outside? You know I’m all about getting the most bang for your buck. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather get out to nature than pay for expensive prescriptions and medical bills.
4 Ways to Get the Most from Nature
Not all of us live in wooded areas or next door to a national park. I have only lived in cities after college, so I get that a trip to the mountains isn’t something a lot of people can do on a whim. However, I do have a few ways to get the most out of nature, even if you are surrounded by a concrete jungle. Work smarter, not harder can apply to relaxation time too.
Forest Bathing (Shinrin-yoku)
If you can’t get out to nature often, then you have to make sure your time in nature does the most for you. This is where forest bathing comes in (I promise no actual bathing outside needs to happen). Shinrin-yoku means to take in the forest. This has actually become an accepted form of treatment in the medical community in Japan.
Although there are guides who can take you on a forest bathing tour, I’m going to be blunt and say that it’s a waste of money. If you can get to a quiet place in nature, you are definitely capable of forest bathing on your own or with a partner.
Forest bathing is like a form of meditation except easier. Unlike meditation where you have to quiet your thoughts and focus on your breathing, you get to pay attention to all of your surroundings. Ideally forest bathing should be done in a secluded part of nature but if you can find a quiet part of a park nearby, you can still forest bath. Picking a place nearby that you can go to often will actually help you become more in touch with nature. You can see how your secret gateway changes with each day.
The length of time is up to you. If you are on a hiking trip, you can spend your entire hike forest bathing. If you only have 20 minutes on a random Saturday, you can still reap the benefits. You don’t want this to be another stress in your life so do what works for you.
To actually forest bath, you must use all of your senses (turn the phone off and put it in your bag). Listen to the birds chirping and leaves rustling in the wind. Take in big breaths of fresh air and notice the different smells. Look all around you. What do the trees look like? Are there any animals scurrying by? Use your hands to actually tough the bark on the trees that surround you. (Be wary of plants you aren’t familiar with; poison ivy is not fun.) Just use this time to take it all in.
Grounding / Earthing
Here’s another tip with a weird name, but hey it works! Grounding or earthing is extremely easy to do and will probably bring back some childhood memories of running around in your backyard or a park. All you have to do is take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass and dirt. Similar with most health trends, there are products out that claim to give you the benefits of earthing but why buy those when walking barefoot is free! You can walk barefoot on a beach, in a park, on some rocks, just as long as the ground is part of nature.
When we wear shoes, we are disconnecting ourselves from the outdoors. Getting closer to nature through the simple act of grounding can even reduce inflammation and pain. It also has been shown to improve the immune system. If you don’t believe me, you can read further from the National Institutes of Health who studied grounding to treat wounds and prevent and treat chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
Go for a walk outside everyday
Unless it’s a torrential downpour outside, taking a walk everyday will make you feel better. Timing for your walk is up to you and what works in your schedule. Some people prefer before work, after work, during lunch, or taking an afternoon “non-coffee” break. I personally do all of the above except for before work (I’m not a morning person) because each day has different demands.
Don’t use your phone during these walks (sensing a theme?). Just take in the noises and images that surround you (kind of like forest bathing). Even if the sounds are other people and cars, just pay attention to the world around you. It helps you realize and appreciate the fact that you are alive and each day is a blessing.
A Semi-Yearly Trip
Not everyone lives close to nature. I used to live in NYC and getting upstate was a pain, I get it. However, you need to make the effort to detox your mind and soul. Taking walks in a concrete jungle can only help you so much.
You might think that this trip requires roughing it but don’t worry, there are alternatives to camping that don’t require sleeping on the ground it at all. (Although camping will definitely get you in touch with nature on a great budget!) I’m a fan of renting out houses in rural woodsy areas that are close to outdoor activities. I can relax in comfort at night but spend my days hiking or kayaking.
What I also love about my nature trips is that I can mentally and physically relax without paying an arm and a leg. There are a lot of expensive wellness retreats out there that are trying to convince people that they need to spend thousands of dollars to get in touch with themselves. Renting a house or cabin instead can be very affordable because it will be surrounded by nature and not near popular vacation destinations. You are also not left with the guilt of sacrificing your savings to have a rejuvenating vacation. And hey, if you want to do yoga like the retreats provide, just YouTube a yoga teacher in your cabin for free!.
Now’s the Time
You can feel it in the air and sense in it the attitudes of others. Summer is right around the corner so what better time than now to get outside and embrace all the healing benefits of nature? The weather is getting nicer and the outside is calling. Treat yo self to some self-indulgence in nature.
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