Here in Colorado we have one of the ultimate places for outdoor activity and opportunity. Yet, it is easy for many of us to stay so busy that we rarely take advantage of the healthful benefits of contact with the natural world.
We experientially know that our stress levels go down when we spend more time in nature. We feel rejuvenated and refreshed after we take a walk through a park or out along a bike path. We feel more grounded and relaxed after a weekend camping and hiking. Now we know from scientific research that our intuition is right.
Dr. Eeva Karjalainen of the Finnish Forest Research Institute summarized such research, stating that just being out in forests and other natural, green settings “can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. Forest visits may also strengthen our immune system…Many studies show that after stressful or concentration-demanding situations, people recover faster and better in natural environments than in urban settings. Blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the level of “stress hormones” all decrease faster in natural settings. Depression, anger and aggressiveness are reduced in green environments and ADHD symptoms in children reduce when they play in green settings.” There has even been research showing that exercising outdoors results in greater physiological benefits than exercising indoors.
In one study over 600 people were asked why they visited the National Forests in the U.S. 92% said they did so to “relax and gain peace of mind”. Perhaps our best “wellness centers” are in the outdoors.
The Environmental Dimension of Wellness has many faces to it that we are much more aware of today. We realize that our behavior affects the world around us in many ways. Our choice to purchase whole and natural foods sends a message all the way to the farmers who decide what to plant and how to care for it. Our choice of vehicles either minimizes our impact on the earth or contributes to it’s ecological misery. However the effect that contact with the natural world can have upon us is huge in it’s potential to help us to heal our frazzled nerves and our troubled soul. Our connectedness to the world around us is often overlooked as a way of healing, yet, when we reach back to that older way of being it seems to always give us just what we need.
On Memorial Day I got out on a hike after far too long away from the foothills and mountains. After hiking past white violets and columbine in bloom I found the remains of an off-trail campsite and took a mid-day break for lunch and contemplation. The quiet was what I found myself cherishing. No city noise, only bird song and wind in the pines and aspen. I opened my copy of Sigurd Olson’s Reflections From The North Country and immediately found these lines. “When man feels tension as though he were being pulled out of his ancient mold, it is his divorcement from silence that is often responsible, silence built into the fabric of this mind. He may not know what is wrong, but he has only to find it again to restore his equilibrium.”
Being healthy and well seems always about restoring balance in our lives on all levels. Until we slow down and reconnect with nature we may not, as Olson reminds us, even realize how out of balance our lives may have become.
There are thirteen weekends in June, July and August. Getting outdoors can be as easy as a spontaneous walk in a park, but consciously setting aside time to get out hiking, camping, etc., like so many wellness activities, is about planning and putting it on the calendar. We know that Labor Day Weekend will be here before we know it.