Not so long ago we, as humans, used to spend the majority, if not all of our time, outside. Sure, we had small manmade roofs over our heads consisting of a variety of whatever natural wood or plant elements that could be found for shelter, but none the less, we spent our time outside, and within the company of nature. There was no buzzing electricity, no cars, no fumes, no toxic chemicals, and certainly no office life. And while modern technology undoubtedly fantastic in some respects, it comes at a high cost…our health.
It is sad ..and a little scary.. that we have reached a point where the term “ecotherapy” is real. What is ecotherapy? It is, by definition, “a method of restoring optimal health and well-being through routine exposure and experience in the natural world”. Our current lifestyle, full of office work, commuting, spending time at home in front of the TV, going to the gym, eating out, shopping at the mall, and any number of other daily requirements for modern day life, is now leaving us with the current estimate that people today spend less than 5% of their day outdoors…?!?!?! That means out of the 24 hours in a day, we are only spending 1 hour and 12 minutes outside (which includes walking to your car from work).
This 22 hours and 48 minutes is leaving us, not only with an absence of oxygen and sunlight, but without the properties of the natural world contains to heal our mind, body, and soul. Furthermore, when we do get outside, we are tethered to our phones, listening to music or podcasts, talking to friends or family, texting, emailing and taking care of work responsibilities, remaining constantly connected. Rarely, do we ever get outside and truly enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of nature.
Some interesting facts regarding our exposure to nature and the physiological effects it has on our bodies:
- Leisurely walks in a forested area decreased cortisol (stress hormone) levels by 12.4% as well as decreased resting heart rate and blood pressure
- Time spent in nature increases natural killer cells and anticancer proteins, sometimes by as much as 40%
- Exposure to sunlight increases the production of white blood cells, which boost the immune system, and red blood cells, which increase oxygen carrying capacity
- Repeated natural sunlight exposure (UV rays) converts the cholesterol in your skin to vitamin D but a lack of exposure to natural sunlight is known to increase cholesterol levels
As Brian Seaward puts it in Managing Stress- “If simply viewed in isolation, it might be easy for critics to dismiss some of the research. But when viewed together (subjective and objective data) the picture of nature’s influence emerges. Our perception of stress, our mental state, our immunity, our happiness, and our resiliency are all chemically influenced by the nervous system and its response to the natural environment” and although the term “ecotherapy” may be new to the American vernacular, the concept of finding a sense of peace in nature is timeless.
Realizing how connected we are all the time, Blake and I have recently started taking hour long walks after dinner with Maya (our dog), without our phones, getting out in nature and spending time away from the TV and computers that would otherwise be our focus when we are home. It has made both of us feel so much better in the evenings, Maya gets another walk, it helps us digest dinner, and we get to spend time with each other without distractions or other obligations. It’s been a great addition to our day and helps us clear our minds of the busy days we have had and get back to what is truly important in our lives.
Information in this post came from:
Seaward, B. (2014). Managing stress: Principles and strategies for health and well being (8th ed.). Sudbury, MA, United States: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.