One of the best things we can do to support our microbiomes is to get outside in diverse environments and just breathe.
-Zach Bush MD and Gut Expert
Spending time in nature feels good and research backs it up. Fresh air, open spaces, natural beauty, calming sounds, immersion in the pulsating energies of nature are connected to increased feelings of wellbeing, including life satisfaction, vitality and happiness.130 Days Wild: Development and Evaluation of a Large-Scale Nature Engagement Campaign to Improve Well-Being, Richardson, M., et. al., PLoS One. 2016 Feb 18;11(2):e0149777. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0149777. eCollection 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26890891
Makes sense, especially when you consider, by contrast, how much time we spend indoors. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that most Americans spend 93% of the time indoors where the air is often way more polluted than outdoor air.2The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality, EPA,https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/inside-story-guide-indoor-air-quality
In addition to formaldehyde, radon, lead, asbestos and other common, harmful chemicals, studies show that more than half of all buildings — homes and office buildings — are polluted with mold, which is increasingly found to be at the root of persistent health challenges.3Over 50% of U.S. Homes and 85% of Commercial Buildings Have Water Damage and Mold, https://www.moldsafesolutions.com/homes-commercial-buildings-mold/ Getting outside is sounding better all the time!
Spending just a little time in nature has profound health benefits:
- Improved immune function
- Increased natural killer cell (NK) function (anti-cancer)
- Reduced inflammation
- Lowered blood pressure
- Lessened pain
- Improved cardiovascular & respiratory systems
- improved vitality and mood
- Reduced anxiety
- Better attention capacity
- Increased energy
- Faster recovery from illness and surgery
When we get into nature, away from man-made lights, we connect with our primitive rhythms, and our circadian cycles synchronize; that helps our bodies function better. Increased vitamin D from sunlight supports better immune function, increased melatonin production from natural darkness leads to better sleep, and our stress hormone, cortisol follows its natural pattern of rising in the morning and falling at night.4Your Body’s Internal Clock and How It Affects Your Overall Health, Alice G. Walton, MAR 20, 2012, The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/03/your-bodys-internal-clock-and-how-it-affects-your-overall-health/254518/
Simple Strategies Synchronize Circadian Rhythms
Get Some Morning Sun
Get outside within 30 minutes of waking to reset your circadian rhythm. To stay on the 24-hour light-dark cycle, your brain needs the input of sunlight through your eyes to reset itself each day. Take a morning walk or just find a sunny spot and soak up 10 – 20 minutes of sun without sunscreen, sunglasses or many clothes to expose your eyes and skin to beneficial sun rays. If getting outside or getting sun is not an option for you, consider using a Portable Light Therapy box like Verilux Happylight.
Try Forest Bathing
Do what health-conscious Japanese do and soak up the healing energy of trees. The Japanese term is “shinrin-yoku” which literally translates to “forest bathing.” Studies show that just hanging out in or simply strolling under a canopy of trees can stimulate the production of natural killer (NK) cells which improves immune strength and helps combat cancer.5Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review, Hanson, M., et. al., Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Aug; 14(8): 851., Published online 2017 Jul 28. doi: 10.3390/ijerph14080851; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5580555/
Take a Hike
No matter your fitness level you can find a hike that works for you. Steep, flat, downhill, short or long; each provides health benefits. More hills mean more of a cardio workout. More uneven terrain engages your core muscles and balance skills. More downhill offers the surprising benefit of lowering your blood sugar levels. In any event, just being out on a trail helps to relieve stress.
The Earth’s surface contains a limitless and continuously renewed supply of free electrons. Mounting evidence suggests that soaking up these negative electrons promotes optimal functioning of all body systems. Earthing, or grounding as it’s sometimes called, reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure, diminishes pain and improves immune response, fasting glucose and even sleep. Research shows regular “earthing” may improve cardiovascular arrhythmias and autoimmune conditions like lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. 6Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons, Chevalier, G., et. al., J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012: 291541.
Published online 2012 Jan 12. doi: 10.1155/2012/291541, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/ Rubber soles disconnect us from nourishing negative electrons, but going barefoot, especially on dewy, non-chemically treated grass, connects us to earth’s free healing energies.
Modern lifestyle has increasingly separated us from the primordial flow of Earth’s electrons. Another way to soak up even more of Mother Earth’s healing energies is to sleep outside. Some of the best nights’ sleep I’ve ever had has been while camping — not necessarily at altitude or while backpacking, but simple car camping with a decent sleeping pad or air mattress. By unplugging from technology, sleep-interfering blue light and getting away from electro-pollution from always-on devices, our bodies, minds and spirits get a much-needed break. And, when you have a full dome of stars over your head, you might even broaden your perspective, which is usually a very good thing.
As we step away from our devices and embrace nature — whether under a canopy of trees, on a wilderness trail, by a lake, a beach, or a green park, breathe in better air and soak up the invisible energies, we become calmer, rejuvenated and restored, and those are excellent autoimmune healing strategies.
What’s your experience? Do you prioritize time in nature?
Take good care!
P.S. Want my personal help beating an autoimmune condition? If you live in the continental U.S. (except NY due to state laws) and are ready, willing, and able to invest in your best health, I offer Functional Medicine Total Health Transformation Programs over Zoom. I collaborate with skilled naturopaths who are expert in resolving root causes like hormonal imbalances, gut disorders, chronic infections and toxic burdens which are almost always part of the autoimmune puzzle. Together we provide comprehensive, customized treatment plans, and collaborative, caring support. If you are ready to beat autoimmune and reclaim your best life please book a 30–minute consultation with me to gain clarity, confidence, and explore the possibility of working together.
Image Credit: Tim Tiedemann