Well, Spring is finally here and a perfect time to get out and do some camping and hiking and enjoy all the wonders of nature, including Good Health Naturally with all the incredible health and well being benefits nature provides, particularly, if you’ve been feeling down lately? A little sluggish, stressed out, or maybe wondering, “What’s life all about?”.
Here’s another question: How much time have you spent in nature lately? The answer to these two questions might be more closely related than you’d think. The modern way we live has changed radically from life of our ancestors in the savanna, but our brains have mostly stayed the same.
We still have a deep connection with nature, and research shows that if we don’t nourish that bond despite our technological advancements, we may suffer in many ways according to a 2014 Frontier Psychology meta-analysis study. The earth, oceans, rivers, mountains and trees, bring you that sense of awe and connectedness we all crave! Silent canyons, babbling creeks and open meadows, singing birds, and beautiful wild flowers swaying in the breeze, for as far as you can see! Yes, Spring has sprung!( (1)
If you’re ever been camping out in nature, you’ve probably noticed that you feel happier out there than inside. You can unwind, disconnecting from technology, resetting your circadian rhythms by rising early and eating before dark, and eating real nutritious food, most likely fresh-caught fish out of lakes and mountain streams, raw fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, and falling asleep not long after it gets dark. There are endless reasons why people choose to spend their weekends sleeping on the cold hard floor of the forest.
Our prehistoric ancestors lived as nomadic campers and so we are hardwired to drift back to our innate habits. It’s really not surprising that we crave time in the fresh air away from it all, and the evidence clearly suggest that more and more people are doing it.
According to KOA, the rising popularity of camping today is mainly due to the increased number of Millennial and Gen Xe’ rs who are making it a regular part of their lives. In fact, 48 percent of the campers surveyed were camping without kids.
General Benefits of Being In Contact With Nature
Mostly being in nature is for the love of adventure and to be connected with the beauty of nature, but it’s often an escape from the business and stress of urban living. Time in nature results in a sense of connectedness and belonging to the wider world that is vital for mental health according to a Journal of Environment and Behavior (Sage).
The National Institutes Of Health (NIH) researched the healthy connection between humans and nature and said that being in nature or a “green-space” is definitely better for peoples mental health. But, also said more research is needed to identify which factors of the green-space makes it restorative.
Even one 2017 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health compared the stress levels of students taught using an outdoor curriculum in a forest, with children in a normal school setting.The study confirmed that the main effect in our measures was that the intervention group had a steady decline of cortisol during the school day, indicating a significant reduction in stress levels.
This is in accordance with a healthy child’s diurnal rhythm, with a significant decline of cortisol from morning to noon. Spending time in nature can help with your personal relationships, too. Natural beauty results in more prosocial behaviors, like generosity and empathy, and, particularly, understanding, and perhaps, that long talk you were planning with a significant other would go more smoothly while watching a sunset instead of staring at the wall, according to 2019 (this year) American Psychological Association (APA) study.
The Biophilia Factor Of Nature
One of the most brilliant individuals in the history of mankind, Albert Einstein, who simply enjoyed sailing and being out in nature and the open waters, hours on end, said this about nature:
Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.
In fact, there’s historical evidence Einstein developed his concepts and the theory on relativity sailing, while sitting in his sailboat quietly relaxing.
Why are we so drawn to nature? No one knows for sure; but one hypothesis derived from evolutionary American biologist E. O. Wilson’s Biophilia Hypothesis suggests that there’s are evolutionary reasons people seek out nature experiences, and said,
Wikipedia describes biophilia as,
The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Reserve Public Health reviewed by the NIH, biophilia implies affection for plants and other living things, in which the study concluded that an environment devoid of Nature may act as a “discord”, and have a negative effect on humans. According to National Geographic research referenced above, while the global science community continues to illuminate the therapeutic benefits of nature on the brain and health, so too are organizations and authorities across the planet such as governments, universities, and environmental enthusiasts are encouraging us to step out of the fast lane and reconnect with nature in a rapidly changing world.
There’s actually already 5 countries that have taken an active role of connecting humans back to nature:
Japan. In the early 80s, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries even coined a term for it: “shinrin-yoku”. According to a study in Public Health, shinrin-yoku means taking in the forest atmosphere or “forest bathing,” and the ministry encourages people to visit forests to relieve stress and improve health.
The Japanese art of ‘shinrin-yoku’ urges citizens to make use of the country’s 3,000 wooded miles, comprising of 62 forest-bases and trails, for therapeutic purposes, which simply means go to the woods, breathe deeply, be at peace, per the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine! It demands that one fully surrender to nature, and while there, to meditate on the songs of birds and rustling trees. The NIH endorsed the concept of nature therapy or forest bathing in this study, but also called for more research.
Sweden. Sweden promotes their “100 million acres of fine do-it-yourself dining”, as the “Edible Country”, where residents can head to nature and transform the whole country into a do-it-yourself gourmet restaurant by preparing meals with meal kits and cooking utensils, and eating the prepared meals on wooden tables among the trees.
United Kingdom. In an attempt to balance screen time and wild time, particularly in young adults, the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs is calling upon individuals and businesses to join together in a ‘Year of Green Action’ (YoGA), which is an ambitious drive to get people of all ages and backgrounds outdoors and away from technology. A 2016 study by Natural England found that more than 10 percent of UK children had not set foot in a park, forest, or other natural environment over the previous 12 months.
United States. The National ParkRx community health initiative has given rise to more than 150 park-prescription programs in America, in states from Alabama to Wisconsin, through which people being prescribed nature, can reap the health benefits of being in nature, in preventing and treating chronic disease, while learning to look after the countryside along the way.
We may have preferences to be in beautiful, natural spaces because they are resource-rich environments, ones that provide optimal food, shelter, and comfort. These evolutionary needs may explain why children are drawn to natural environments and why we prefer nature to be even a part of our architecture.
South Korea. One of the most ambitious forest medicine programs in the world, the 5th National Forest Plan, aims to create a “green welfare state, where forests bring happiness to everyone“, through programs like prenatal forest meditation to wood crafting for cancer patients, at every stage of life.
Nature Is Calling
Numerous other studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions, bringing Good Health Naturally.
In particular, simply viewing nature seems to be awe-inspiring and inherently rewarding, producing a cascade of position emotions and calming our nervous systems, and not only making us happier, but healthier, too. National Geographic calls it “A call to the wild”. These experiences in turn help us to cultivate greater openness, creativity, connection, generosity, resilience, and even our social well being.
For example, a 2012 PLOS|ONE study found that changing the scenery is a great way to get the creative juices flowing, and nature offers stimuli that you won’t find while staring at a screen. In one example, spending four days in nature improved problem-solving skills by 50 percent. A NIH study on the human-nature connection and revealed the many ways humans are linked with natural environments.
Some of the ways include: Humans’ preference for scenes dominated by natural elements, the sustainability of natural resources, and the health benefits associated with engaging with nature. While there is considerable research on environmental contamination and degradation, there is equally credible evidence on the healthful qualities of the environment. Being in and caring for nature can be health promoting for individuals, families, communities, ecosystems and the planet according to a 2011 study published in Health Promotion International reviewed by Academics.
Fresh Natural Air
Trees use photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide into the oxygen we need to breathe. In just one year, the presence of trees saved 850 lives and prevented 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms, according to the latest research published in the journal Environmental Pollution. Trees remove pollution from the air, allowing for purer oxygen, making it healthier for us to take into our lungs.
According to the E.P.A., indoor is much more polluted than outdoor air, even in urban spaces. Access to fresh air keeps our circulatory systems healthy, which is important for both our mental and physical health. For more in depth information on indoor air pollution read this article “Solutions Of Air Pollution”.
Urban air is increasingly full of pollutants, and the situation is getting worse. According to the research, the fresh air created by trees, actually more so by bushes or low hedges, is especially beneficial to those living in urban areas, where the air is more heavily polluted.
One 2017 University of Surrey study advised cities to ‘green up’ to reduce impact of air pollution by strategically placing low hedges along roads in a built-up environment of cities instead of taller trees.A Journal Of Environmental Psychology study showed the vitalizing effects of breathing fresh air:
Being outdoors such as when you’re camping, was associated with greater vitality, a relation that was mediated by the presence of natural elements.
And it’s not only the trees.
Did you know, the old saying…”you should stop and smell the roses”, has more truth in that statement than you could imagine? According to a National Institute Of Health study (NIH), the smell of roses has a relaxing and calming effect on humans. Even a fresh rain or a quick shower has an inviting aroma, doesn’t it? The smell is a result of ozone, plant spores, and oils secreted from plants. According to the NIH, there’s even a name for this natural occurring “smell-of-the-earth” neutral oil…it’s called “gesomin”. Some scientists believe that people inherited their affection for the scent of rain from ancestors who relied on rainy weather for their survival.
Phytoncide is a substance emitted by plants and trees and generally means the aroma of the forest. “Phyton” means “plant” in Latin, and “cide” means to exterminate. Phytoncides are produced to help plants and trees to protect themselves from harmful insects, mold, and germs. Phytoncides do not only exist in forests. They can be found in vegetables and fruit as well, like in your garden, if you have one.
After the constituents of phytoncides were identified, experiments were conducted to see how they benefit human health. Studies like National Taiwan University Hospital, reviewed by NIH, research on nature therapy, have further investigated phytonicides in laboratory settings and confirmed that they can increase anti-cancer proteins and enhance natural killer cell activity.
Reviewed by the NIH another study from Department of Biotechnology and Chemistry, Faculty of Engineering, Kinki University, in Japan concluded
“In this research, phytoncide solution derived from a combination of 118 kinds of plants was assessed in terms of its antioxidant potential, sterilization, odor-eliminating and stress-reducing properties. Clearly, the bio activity of phytoncide solution, including its terpenoid components, is related to these effects.
The NIH did a subsequent study and said this about the natural killer properties of phytoncides being transferred to humans by breathing forest air:
These findings indicate that phytoncide exposure and decreased stress hormone levels, may partially contribute to increased NK (natural killer) activity.
In another 2009 study published in the Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, investigated the effect of essential oils from trees on human immune function in twelve healthy male subjects, age 37–60 years, who stayed at an urban hotel for 3 nights, indicated that phytoncide exposure and decreased stress hormone levels may partially contribute to increased NK activity and anti-cancer activity.
One study out of the University of Nippon, Tokyo, Japan, reviewed by the NIH, investigated the effect of forest bathing trip on human NK activity in female nurses indicated that a forest bathing trip also increased NK (natural-killing) activity, number of NK cells, and levels of intracellular anti-cancer proteins in female subjects, and that this effect lasted at least 7 days after the trip.
Camping in the outdoors, backpacking, and fresh air has been shown to help digest food more effectively, improve blood pressure and heart rate, and strengthen the immune system, and just make you happy, leading to a healthier you. Don’t you want to be happy?
Natural Light and Sunlight
While we know intuitively that natural light of a sunny day can improve our mood, most of us don’t realize how important natural sunlight can be for our mental well being. We all know the importance of natural sunlight as far as maintaining our bodily requirement for Vitamin D, but, sunlight is also essential for our brain functions, sleep patterns, and our emotions.
Exposure to sunlight increases the brain’s levels of serotonin in the day time, and a lack of sunlight in the daylight hours causes a decrease of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy, release at night when it’s time to sleep, according to this NIH study.
Have you ever noticed on a dreary, rainy, cloudy-day you are more sleepy and tired and the wrong time to be sleepy? According to Central Queensland University associate professor in chronobiology and sleep Naomi Rogers, on a cloudy-rainy day, without bright morning sunlight to kick start your body to stop producing melatonin, you can feel lethargic, down, drowsy, and sleepy.
The NIH released a study recommending one way to increase serotonin levels is to venture outside in natural light. A healthy balance of serotonin and melatonin is vital to our bodies’ health, because they regulate our stress levels and moods. Conditions such anxiety, depression, mood swings, bipolar disorders, and seasonal effective disorder (SAD) can occur. According to Mayo Clinic SAD can lead to some serious mental and emotional issues and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Signs and symptoms may include: feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, having low energy, having problems with sleeping, experiencing changes in your appetite or weight, feeling sluggish or agitated, having difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty, and having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
Natural light also controls our circadian rhythms, our ‘body-clock’, which dictate our sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature, and other important bodily functions. In fact, neuroscientists have identified key cells within the brain called SCN neurons that are critical for determining circadian rhythms, the 24-hour processes that control sleep and wake cycles, as well as other important body functions such as hormone production, metabolism, and blood pressure, according to research out of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Besides antidepressant medication, vitamin D, and counseling, light therapy is one effective way to treat seasonal effective disorder (SAD) and certain other conditions by exposure to higher-intensity artificial light, found a 2015 study published in the journal of Depression Research Treatment and reviewed by the NIH.
In addition, per another NIH review, SAD is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time each year, usually in the fall or winter, like the effect of a cloudy-rainy day covered above, except there are many more days like that in winter. Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms. When hormones are out of balance there are all those symptoms we outlined above that can occur. Dr. Susanne Preston, a clinical counselor at South University in Virginia Beach says being outside and spending time in nature is good for a person’s mental health, as it allows them to de-stress.
The fresh air and sunlight have the largest benefits,
For example, with increased exposure to natural sunlight, incidents of seasonal effective disorder decrease. When individuals are exposed to natural sunlight, the vitamin D in their skin helps to elevate their moods.
Research has shown that spending time in nature has been associated with decreased levels of mental illness, with the strongest links to reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, in addition to increased self esteem.
In addition, research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (NIH) shows that a 90-minute walk in nature lowers activity in the part of the brain linked to negative rumination, which is associated with anxiety and depression. The same walk in an urban setting doesn’t have the same effect.
Physical Activity and Exercise In Nature
When most people think of exercise, they typically think of hitting the indoor gym. While that may seem like the only practical option during the cold, snowy winter months, or during the blistering heat of summer, there’s is overwhelming evidence that exercising outdoors, otherwise referred to as green exercise, is better for you, both physically and mentally.
This idea isn’t new, in fact, the healing power of nature from the Latin phrase: “vis medicatrix naturae“, is one of the guiding principles of Hippocratic medicine and evolutionary biology and viewed as an essential factor in maintaining and restoring one’s health, especially when getting physical activity.
Movement outdoors is intrinsically tied to our humanity. For 99 percent of human history, not only have we lived off the land and sought nature for basic survival and health, but also for pleasure and physical activity too. By returning to that “hunter-gatherer” type physical activity experienced of our forefathers in nature, or “green spaces”, we can avoid unhealthy issues such as a weakened immune system, overweight or obesity, hormone imbalance causing anxiety and depression, lack of strength and stamina, and of course, vitamin D deficiency.
Exercising out in nature among the trees, fresh air, and birds is much healthier than indoor exercise. For example, research highlights, like this Mayo Clinic study, that an average of 30 minutes spent in nature leads to increased physical activity and lower prevalence of high blood pressure and depression.
Or, according to studies, exercising outdoors burns more calories than the same amount of the same exercise indoors, helping you more efficiently to maintain a healthy weight.
Here’s a couple more studies on healthy happy hormones. Queensland government Of Australia, found that those who exercised outdoors on a regular basis had higher levels of serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood, than those who workout mainly indoors. They also had higher levels of endorphins, or “happy” hormones, the post-exercise rush that occurs after exercise when exercising outside, especially in green environments.
One study published in the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health determined that exercise is more enjoyable when done outside because it allows you to really enjoy the awe of nature. Besides breathing fresh air, which has a revitalizing effect increasing energy in 90 percent of people, and is tremendously healthy for you, found a 2010 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.
Then there’s the monotonous and boring activity of indoor exercise such as walking on a treadmill, or walking inside of a mall like older adults do. Numerous studies have shown that during self-paced walking outdoors, negotiating trails, crossing streams, or climbing hills, individuals walk faster and work harder and are more challenged.
However, they report lower perceived exertion compared to indoors treadmill-based walking, particularly in older people. One NIH study had this to say about older adults getting exercise out in nature were more stimulated and had more fun:
An over-ground walking program appears to offer some advantages over a treadmill walking program in older adults.
In another NIH review of a study published in the Journal of Sports Physiological Performance, came up with these results: Perceived exertion matters because we tend to give up sooner if something is perceived to be difficult. This psychological component can influence how much we get out of one exercise compared to another.
However, if assessing the real, rather than perceived, benefits of running, outdoor running will usually come out on top. Even if you run at the same pace on a treadmill, you will generally expend more energy running outdoors. This is not only due to variations in terrain, weather, and wind conditions; the treadmill ultimately does a lot of the work for you by propelling you forward.
A 2011 study published in Environmental Science Technology and reviewed by the NIH, comparing the effects on mental and physical wellbeing, health related quality of life and long-term adherence to physical activity, of participation in physical activity in natural environments compared with physical activity indoors, has shown some promising effects on self-reported mental wellbeing immediately following exercise in nature which are not seen following the same exercise indoors.
Cooking and Eating In the Great Outdoors
Studies suggest that eating outside and cooking at the campsite not only actually makes food taste better, particularly if you obtained the food yourself, such freshly-caught fish from a stream or lake nearby, but also the experience of feeling more energized and alive and experiencing Good Health Naturally, as the biggest benefit!
Nature is fuel for the soul!
, says Richard Ryan, researcher and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. Ryan continued,
Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature. One of the pathways to health may be to spend more time in natural settings
And it really does, doesn’t it? The fresh air and peacefulness of nature lowers your stress hormones, particularly cortisol, and blood pressure, so you’re more relaxed and even focused.
When you’re stressed, you’re not paying attention to what you’re eating and don’t enjoy it as much. When you’re stressed you also have a tendency to eat more unhealthy sweet fatty foods which complicates things and just leads to more stress-induced unhealthy eating.
Plus, being outside is a natural mood booster. Cooking on a makeshift grill on an open fire, you consume less fat because the excess drips to the ground, while cooked vegetables and meats retain more vitamins and minerals. This makes meat in particular much leaner and will reduce the number of calories you consume.
And, what about the flavor and delicious smell of a deer roast cooked in a cast iron Dutch oven on coals of an open fire, like in this video? (2) Just thinking about it, makes me hungry! How about you? Out in nature you have a much better view, makiny you feel less stressed, where you can feel more relaxed, stretch out, and let your eyes wander deeper into your the incredible natural scene in front of you. You’ll unwind and relax with a view that awe-inspiring and you’ll love it, while you enjoy a quiet and healthy evening meal, and you won’t be craving unhealthy sugary or fat foods.
If you planned and packed smartly for your camping trip, you will have an ample supply of fresh, healthy and nutritious foods (A) stored in your Yetti cooler on ice for cooking. Possibilities should include fresh lean organic grass-fed-finished steaks or other meats for grilling on the open fire, and, just to be safe, some wild-caught sockeye salmon steaks (A).
You’ll have some salmon to cook in case you get skunked catching fresh fish. Also include some organic cage-free brown eggs and grass-fed butter for breakfast (A), fresh organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, and edible flower seeds for fresh salads and healthy snacks (A) from your own backyard garden, or you bought from our specialty market source (A).
You’ve also got with you some fermented pickles, Greek yogert, and natural fermented wine and brandy and lots of fresh herbs and spices to season those steaks and salmon with, and whole-grain wheat cereal for breakfast (A), Oh, and don’t forget your travel container of blueberry Maca smoothies, and espresso coffee for dripping on an open fire, and of course, some fun dark chocolate for a special treat each day. (A).
Do you know what is the most important health benefit of eating foods outdoors? You cook it yourself. People who frequently cook meals at home or out in nature, or on a party boat, or wherever, not only enjoy their food more, but also eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less, according to new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research. It’s very simple takeout or restaurant foods is higher in unhealthy saturated fats and sugars and calories.
When people cook most of their meals at home, or else where, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than those who cook less or not at all, even if they are not trying to lose weight,
says Julia A. Wolfson, MPP, a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and lead author of the study.
Another study completed at the University of Washington School Of Public Health, and reviewed by ScienceDirect, confirmed cooking at home or in other locations, was not only healthier but also much cheaper.
Guess where we’re going right now? Yes, you guessed it….going to pack our yeti cooler with some wonderful, healthy, nutrient-dense foods for our weekend camping trip. We’d like you to join us on our camping trip which will help you to bolster your Good Health Naturally. What are your thoughts and comments? There’s more health benefits associated with outdoor camping that we’ll cover in the next article.
You might enjoy reading these related articles: Benefits In Being In Nature, and “Best Of Camping-Incredible Health Benefits Part 2”,
Update: Had to add this….My better half and I were out on our rear deck enjoying a morning cup of jo (coffee) and we both witnessed a pair of mating robins make trip after trip after trip, for the 20 minutes we were out there from a spot in the grass to a close-by tree.
The pair was pulling dried grass up in their beaks and taking it to a near by tree where they were building a nest. Incredible! “Stop and smell the roses”, and if you’re not into camping, at least get out in your backyard. Your health and well being and life depends on it!
(A) Use these links for more in depth information and documented studies on the benefits of these nutrient-dense foods, and to purchase them.
(2) Bill Gaudy