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The evidence for prescribing time in nature

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“The art of healing comes from nature and not from the physician. Therefore the physician must start from nature with an open mind”

- Paracelsus

A focus on treating the whole person, and restoring vitality to a body and mind that has become depleted in some form, is at the heart of holistic medicine.

We often turn to our nutrients, herbs and whole foods as a tangible source of healing, which can have a profound impact on health and healing. But what if we are forgetting something pivotal (and free) in moving the needle towards optimal wellbeing for ourselves, our patients and our community. 

Time in nature, biophilia, grounding, forest bathing - all of these practices were once woven into our culture on a regular basis.

Instinctively we know how good it feels to be in nature. The sound of the waves crashing on the beach as your body absorbs the energy of the ocean. The sensation of sand between your toes or grass beneath your feet. That feeling of being part of something so much bigger than yourself as you stare at a mountain peak or watch the sunset over the sea. 

However, as a western society we have become somewhat wired in needing numbers, proof and data before confidently prescribing therapies, even those that cause no harm. 

So what does the science say?

Research shows spending time in nature can improve working memory in both depressed[1] and non-depressed people.[2] Not only does time in nature improve memory but it can also be an effective tool for reducing anxiety, improving self-esteem and enhancing mood.[3]

Further to this, research has shown that time in nature can significantly reduce cortisol and inflammation. Interestingly, these benefits have been seen across different time durations and settings. Whether you elect to sit in nature on your lunch break, go camping for a couple of days or take a walk in nature on the weekend, all three show the above benefits.[4,5]

And while you’re at it, why not kill two birds with one stone and take your exercise outside? Research shows that moving your body outdoors increases energy, decreases tension, relieves depression and promotes greater feelings of revitalisation compared to indoor exercise.[6]

Practically speaking it can be difficult to intertwine nature time into our already full lives. It feels like a luxury for many. 

What is the modern day solution?

Getting creative and tweaking the activities you or your patients already do to more of a nature-oriented setting is one way. For example, buying an indoor plant for your office, taking your exercise outside, opting for a picnic in nature over brunch out at a cafe as your family activity, going for a walk outside in your lunch break instead of sitting in the lunch room, or skipping the movies on date night and going stargazing instead. 

There are options for everyone. It is free and an underrated form of healing. 

References

  1. Berman MG, Kross E, Krpan KM, et al. Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. J Affective Dis 2012;140(3):300-305. [Full Text]
     
  2. Berman MG, Jonides J, Kaplan S. The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature psychological science. Psychol Sci 2008;19(12):1207-1212. [Abstract]
     
  3. Barton J, Pretty J. What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environ Sci Technol 2010;44(10):3947-3955. [Abstract]
     
  4. Li Q. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environ Health Prevent Med 2010;15(1):9-17. [Full Text]
     
  5. Mao GX, Lan XG, Cao YB. Effects of short-term forest bathing on human health in a broad-leaved evergreen forest in Zhejiang Province, China. Biomed Environ Sci 2012;25(3):317-324. [Full Text]
     
  6. Thompson Coon J, Boddy K, Strein K, et al. Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A Systematic Review. Environ Sci Technol 2016;45(5):1761-1772. [Abstract]

DISCLAIMER: 

The information provided on FX Medicine is for educational and informational purposes only. The information provided on this site is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional advice or care. Please seek the advice of a qualified health care professional in the event something you have read here raises questions or concerns regarding your health.

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Natalie Bourke

Natalie is a holistic dietitian and nutritionist, author, podcaster, speaker and fitness instructor. She is part of the practitioner support team at one of Australia's leading providers of therapeutic supplements and runs Health By Whole Foods, a nutritional consulting business with a clinical focus on thyroid dysfunction, HPA axis dysregulation (or “adrenal fatigue”), and gut health.  Nat is passionate about helping women build a healthy relationship with food and their body; she achieves lasting results for her clients using whole food nutrition, functional medicine and holistic lifestyle advice. You can catch her fortnightly on The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast, with fun and quirky interviews that aim to dispel nutrition myths and guide listeners on a balanced approach to health. Her eBook, Healing Digestive Discomfort, is an industry-leading guide with accessible guidance for anybody looking to start improving their gut health.