Time in Nature:
The Secret to Health?
Make it Outdoors?
Ways to Bring the Outside In
up your window view: Plant a tree, a window sill garden, hang
a bird feeder or a potted plant
the windows (and the curtains) as often as possible to let in
fresh air and sunlight
the healing properties of natures scents indoors with
aromatherapy. Choose essential oils with earthy smells like
sandalwood or patchouli
nature-themed artwork including photographs and paintings. Better
yet, create and display your own seasonal nature collage made
with leaves, pine cones, dried flowers, pebbles, and other pieces
you picked up on your last hike
online and download a nature-themed screen saver or background
for the days you spend hours behind a computer
plants are a great way to clean up the indoor air and remind
us of the green goodness that awaits us outside
fountains have become a popular way to bring nature sounds indoors.
From a small desktop size to a 4 tall water wall, indoor
fountains can lull you into a restful nights sleep
you ever find yourself easily distracted, irritable, and unable to focus
on the task at hand? If so, you may suffer from mental fatigue
a common condition caused by doing too many activities that require
small amounts of time in a natural setting can help ease mental fatigue.
In their 1998 hallmark book, With People in Mind, environmental
researchers Rachel and Stephen Kaplan emphasize that being outdoors,
and in particular, achieving a reverie they dub quiet fascination,
is particularly effective at easing mental fatigue and facilitating
rest and recuperation.
the times on hikes when you paused to look closely at a colorful autumn
leaf or stooped down to examine a lush carpet of moss, only to discover
a family of fungi hiding on a small log nearby. The Kaplans explain
that these moments of discovery and fascination make up a spontaneous,
effortless kind of attention that is distinguishable from office-bound
tasks like reading, writing a report, or preparing to give a presentation.
As you follow your curiosity from leaf to stone to caterpillar, you
relax into an exploration of your natural surroundings, which gives
the attention-driven part of your brain a much-needed break.
time in a natural environment do you need to reverse mental fatigue?
While the answer is unclear, the Kaplans explain that its as easy
as having a window with a nice view.
fascination experienced spending time in nature refreshes our brain
circuits, sounds in nature also enhance human health. In fact, you need
not look further than the personal fountain in your work space to discover
one of the most popular and powerful healing sounds in nature: running
In a 1997
study, Dr. Lee Berk, a psychoneuroimmunology researcher with Loma Linda
University, took 10 cancer patients with chronic pain and showed them
a 30 to 40 minute-long nature video, of which 15 minutes focused on
water sounds, such as waves, waterfalls, and creeks. After the brief
viewing, stress hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol dropped 20%
have noticed your own preference for the sound of running water. While
its not clear why we respond to the sounds of water, the calming,
mind-easing effects seem to balance the bodys hormones in a health-enhancing
sense, you might say, that spending time in nature restores our attention
by giving us something novel to explore. In fact, your own experiences
have probably proven that rhythmic, soothing sounds of running water
calm a busy mind and leave you refreshed. However, have you also considered
that the smells of nature enhance health? We take for granted that pollution
in the air we breathe can cause asthma and other health problems, but
what if walking through an old growth forest could improve diabetes?
In a collection of essays entitled Teaching the Trees, botanist
Joan Moof describes Shrinrin-Yoku the ancient Japanese art of
In a 1998
study, Japanese researchers at the Hokkaido University School of Medicine
showed that nine walks through an old growth forest over a six-year
period led to a lower average blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes.
The researchers postulate that the forest environment brings about changes
in hormonal secretion and nervous system function that provide glucose-lowering
benefits beyond those gained by just walking alone.
researchers in Californias Sierra Nevada found they could name
only 70 out of the over 120 compounds they discovered in the air of
old growth forests. So the next time you walk through any forest, but
especially one filled with old growth trees, take the advice of your
fitness instructor and dont forget to breathe.
Barakat has a background in nutrition and is studying to become a physician
at Oregon Health and Science University. To invite Suzette to speak
about nutrition, health, or diabetes at your next work or community
event, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.