BUILDING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM Through Nature
I’d like to start out with noting that I understand those of you who live in rainy, cold areas like New England and Nordic countries, that being in nature on a regular basis can be a challenge, unlike those in tropical areas or California.
Breathing fresh air can therefore help regulate your levels of serotonin and promote happiness and well-being. The negative ion-rich oxygen found in nature also has a relaxing effect on the body.
Scientists are beginning to find evidence that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behavior, helping us to reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people.
Spending time in nature provides protections against a startling range of diseases, including depression, diabetes, obesity, ADHD, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many more, research shows. How this exposure to green space leads to better health has remained a mystery. After reviewing hundreds of studies examining nature’s effects on health, an environment and behavior, Ming Kuo believes the answer lies in nature’s ability to enhance the functioning of the body’s immune system.
Exposure to nature switches the body into “rest and digest” mode, which is the opposite of the “fight or flight” mode. When the body is in “fight or flight” mode, it shuts down everything that is immediately nonessential, including the immune system.
“When we feel completely safe (rest and digest,) our body devotes resources to long-term investments that lead to good health outcomes–growing, reproducing, and building the immune system,” Kuo said. “When we are in nature in that relaxed state, and our body knows that it’s safe, it invests resources toward the immune system.
It Helps You Get Vitamin D It’s important for your bones, blood cells, and immune system. It also helps your body absorb more of certain minerals, like calcium and phosphorus. Your body needs sunlight to make it, but you don’t need much. In the summer, just getting sun for 5 to 15 minutes, 2 or 3 times a week, should do it. In the winter, you might need a bit more.
Sunlight helps keep your serotonin levels up. This helps raise your energy and keeps your mood calm, positive, and focused.
Builds Connection and Confidence
You can easily connect more with the people and places in your community.
Human contact and a sense of community are important to your mental health.
It Improves Your Sleep
The outdoors helps set your sleep cycle. Cells in your eyes need enough light to get your body’s internal clock working right. Early morning sunlight in particular seems to help people get to sleep at night.
Improves Self Esteem
As little as 5 minutes of outdoor activity can help improve your self-esteem. This is especially true if you’re near water or green space. And it’s not high-intensity exercise that does it best. More relaxed activity like a walk, bike ride, or work in the garden seems to work even better.
Improves Your Focus
It makes sense, if only for the bit of exercise you get when you do something outside. But studies show that it’s not just the activity, it’s the “greenness” of the outdoor space. In one study, kids with ADHD were able to concentrate better on a task after a walk in the park than they were after a walk through an urban area.
Gives You Better Immunity
Better vitamin D production because of more sunlight is already good for your immune system. But the outdoors seems to help in other ways. Many plants put substances, including organic compounds called phytoncides, into the air that seem to boost immune function. Sunlight also seems to energize special cells in your immune system called T cells that help fight infection.
Boosts Your Creativity
Do you have a knotty problem you can’t solve? Struggling with writer’s block? Spend time outside. Studies show that time in nature can boost your creative problem-solving abilities. This is partly because the outside world engages your attention in a quieter way that lets your attention refocus. The more time you spend, the bigger the benefit, but even just “getting out for some air” can nudge your brain into a new thought pattern.
It doesn’t involve an actual bath in the forest. It means that you spend time in a forest environment to help improve physical and mental health. The Japanese call it Shinrin Yoku. Several studies show that it can help boost your energy, immune system, and energy levels, as well as help you sleep better and recover faster if you get sick. But you don’t need a study to know that it just feels good.
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Get out there!
In gratitude and curiosity, Janet