Medical Research on Contact With Nature

Poets, philosophers, and mystics, have long espoused the merits of being present with nature. Now medical research is investigating, documenting, and describing the many health benefits of daily contact with nature, not as a recreational sport but in a leisure, multi-sensory sense—a way of being—not a way of doing. This research has important holistic health implications for us as practitioners of wellness therapies.

Time magazine’s July 25, 2016, Wellness View “The Healing Power of Nature” by Alexandra Sifferlin, referenced several medical research findings. I  summarized the most relevant papers for my 2016 workshop at Valaterra Retreat Center:

Physiological Aspects

Inhalation of phytoncides produced by conifer trees (pines) has been found to:

  1. Increase NK cells (cancer fighting cells) for improved autoimmune system response
  2. Reduce blood pressure by lowering cortisol
  3. Lessen anxiety and depression

The Japanese tradition of “Forest Bathing” known as Shirin-Yoku has been the research focus of Yoshifuni Miyaza, Forest Therapy Expert at Chiba University and Dr. Qing Li at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo. Phytoncides in plants lower the stress-induced “fight or flight” responses. A 2010 research project revealed that patients who took long walks in forests for two consecutive days “increased NK cells by 50% and their activity by 56%” as cell activity level remained “23% higher for the month following the forest walks”.

Clever marketers are now using cedar scent diffusers in hotels and retail stores to promote a “sense of well-being” as you enter your hotel room or roam the store’s aisles. During my spring 2016 speaking trip I found a cedar diffuser in my hotel room at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and in REI’s Seattle flagship store. Quest Outdoors in Middletown, Kentucky, just opened a new location that mirrors the REI & L.L. Bean retail display model, including using cedar aromatic scents.

The April 2016 Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives included a paper finding that “women living in areas with lots of vegetation had a 12% lower risk of death from all causes compared to those living in less green space”.

Psychological Aspects

A 2015 Paper published in National Academy of Sciences Proceedings reported that people walking for 90 minutes in a “natural setting” were “less likely to ruminate—a hallmark of depression and anxiety—and had lower activity in brain site linked to depression.” Ming Kuo, an Environmental & Behavioral Scientist, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, reported “Nature gives that part of the brain used for focused concentration a rest. Spending time doing something mentally relaxing is a rejuvenating sensation.”

Holistic Wellness & Health—Financial Implications

A University of Michigan study found that regular contact with nature “improved short term memory by as much as 20%”! One in three Americans are being treated for high blood pressure at a cost of $48.6 billion per year! “If everyone were to make time for nature, the savings on health care costs would be incredible”, according to Danielle Shanahan, research Fellow University of Queensland, Australia.

 Sensual Stimulation within Institutional Care

Rehabilitative care and recovery facilities have been using the “Eden” design and décor model for a couple of decades. Beds face windows open to natural landscaping, facilitating wildlife viewing. Fish tanks and live plants adorn dining and social gathering areas and therapy cats and dogs are allowed within client rooms and corridors. Musical programs featuring live performers who engage clients in sing-a-longs often are integral to the “Eden” therapeutic comfort modalities.

It is undeniable that nature is integral in our well being. But, we live in a world where we are often too busy to get outside. The consequences of our indoor lifestyles may be much deeper than we even realize. That is why Natural Connections brings people outside to start experiencing life, wonder, and well being through nature.