Have you ever been sick when someone says to you, “Hey, maybe try going outside for a few minutes to get some fresh air?” Or, “Why don’t you sit in your backyard for just a few minutes? The sun will feel good on your face.”
Or have you ever said to a friend or a loved one who is depressed, “Why I don’t I come over and we can take a short walk in the park?”
Well as you all know, I finished and published my first book, Leverage the Field for Success, last year. The book starts by defining and showing scientific evidence of the energetic field (“the Field”) that connects everything in the universe. The rest of the book then focuses on how we can use that Field to our advantage in the workplace.
As you might imagine, since writing the book I’ve wondered about what scientific evidence exists of the connection between our bodies and our planet. Specifically, I’ve wondered whether there is scientific evidence of the connection between our health and being outdoors.
It turns out there is LOTS of research that conclusively shows the health benefits of being in Nature:
- The Biomedical and Environment Sciences Journal published a study conducted in China focused on short-term effects of “forest bathing”. A group of healthy men were split into two groups: one group spent two nights and two days in a city, and the other group spent two nights and two days in a forest. The results were clear: The forest group showed reduced oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory levels; cortisol levels were also lower than the urban group, indicating that stress response mechanisms of the forest group were healthier / less active; and, scores for vigor were higher for the forest group.
- Back in 2012, Psychological Science published a study conducted by Stanford University focused on “the benefits of awe” one experiences in nature. The study concluded that awe expands people’s perception of time, enhances well-being, and causes people to behave more altruistically and less materialistically.
- Studies also show that spending time in nature is restorative to the brain when a person is experiencing “mental fatigue”, the condition one feels when it seems as if our brain is slowing to a crawl.
- For those with anxiety or depression challenges, one study found that walks in the forest were associated with decreased levels of anxiety and bad moods.
But what is it about connecting with nature that helps us feel better? Each of these studies tells us that being in nature improves our health and our physical performance levels, but science does not yet know WHAT the connection is.
And this got me thinking about being sick, and what helps us feel better when we are ill. Whether it’s a mother, a sibling, or a spouse, when that person simply enters the room, we feel a little better. For these folks the connection to us is clear: they are compassionate, caring, nurturing, and empathetic.
So let’s switch gears and talk about what makes atheists feel better…well, one atheist anyway. Ricky Gervais is an actor, writer, and producer who writes funny, terribly cynical shows like The Office. He was once asked in an interview, “If God doesn’t give you comfort, what does?” Ricky thought for three or four seconds and then answered, “Dogs.” Ricky went on to say that a dog won’t judge you if you don’t love it back. It’s still going to love you no matter what.
And isn’t that true of just about any pet? Dogs, cats, birds, ferrets, squirrels or even lions (can you tell I’ve been watching pet reunions on YouTube?), these pets love us no matter what. And the health benefits from this affection is now so accepted in main stream society, that Service Dogs / Pets are becoming commonplace.
And all this brings me back to wondering about our connection with Nature, with the Planet: If the feeling of care and compassion from our relationships – a parent, a spouse or a pet – literally improves our health, what does that say about Earth’s connection with us? A parent or a spouse’s love and care for us improves our health. The unconditional love from a pet improves our health. Given that our health improves when being in Nature, what does this say about Earth’s relationship with us?
Enjoy those outdoors!