The Nature Rx: Take 2 Walks and Call Me in the MorningBy Cary Barbor
Someday soon, you may get a prescription that won’t be filled at your local pharmacy, but at your local park. Wellness entrepreneur Jennifer Walsh hopes to spread the word about how much we could improve our health by simply spending more time outside in nature.
“We are so focused on the digital space these days,” she says. “We need more nature.” Being out among trees, grass, and flowers has many health benefits. In fact, research shows that spending time in nature can reduce the risks of:
- High blood pressure
- Type II diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Premature death
- Preterm birth
Walsh leads teams and individuals on mindful walks called “Wellness Walks.” Based in New York City, Walsh often leads her walks in Central Park. “I call it ‘yoga for your brain,’” she says. “I encourage people to be aware of their surroundings. Shut off the to-do list and listen to the sounds around you: Birds, water, wind. Notice the smells in nature.” Many of her clients, she says, rarely spend time outdoors and are thrilled with the opportunity to do so.
The fact that being in nature reduces stress means that it affects nearly all aspects of health. There is a Japanese practice called “forest bathing,” or shinrin-yoku, that consists of walking, or simply being, in forests, and its goal is to decrease stress and stress-related health problems. A large Japanese study showed that on days participants were in the forest, forest bathing decreased hostility and depression significantly and increased liveliness. Subjects also showed a decrease in stress levels. A later study showed even more robust health benefits: a simple day trip to a forest park increased the number of natural killer cells, as well as anti-cancer proteins, present in the blood of subjects. (Killer cells get rid of certain cancerous cells in the body.) And what’s more, the effect lasted for seven days after the trip.
The best part is, you don’t have to devote hours of your day to the effort. Getting outside during your lunch break can be enough, according to a recent study. Visitors to an urban park showed improvement in well-being and life satisfaction by a whopping 64 percent after just a 20.5-minute park visit. Talk about a return on investment!
Here are some suggestions to get more nature in your week:
- Start by going somewhere green just one day a week, and make it part of your schedule. Walsh suggests a Wednesday wellness walk.
- Do your own yard work or start a garden.
- Do your errands on foot rather than by car. Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones research shows that people living the longest, healthiest lives move around every 20 minutes, or so, rather than sit still most of the day.
- Schedule walking meetings at work. Walk for at least 30 minutes while you discuss matters, then sit afterward so you can document or follow up on what was discussed.
- For the hours you just can’t get outside, bring plants indoors. They improve air quality and have been shown to increase productivity by 15 percent.
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