When I first found the second-floor flat in San Francisco that I’ve called home for the past 25 years, I was thrilled that it had a backyard and that I could see neighboring yards with trees and gardens as well as distant green hills from my back windows. I didn’t know then that scientists had begun investigating the benefits of nature and greenery to the human body and psyche. I just knew that looking out on or being in my backyard fed my soul.
More recently, when a Chinese Massage (Chi Nei Tsang) therapist found my liver was tight and congested, she recommended a daily practice of looking at something living and green—as close as possible to the color of new grass—with my palm over my liver, and visualizing inhaling the color into my liver to soothe and heal it. Was it just my imagination or could I actually feel the color filling my liver, releasing and revitalizing it?
As the world’s population has exploded, cramming more and more of us into crowded cities, we’re getting less and less of what you could call vitamin N (nature) and vitamin G (greenery). Yet researchers are finding that, like vitamins, nature and greenery are essential for maintaining physical and emotional health. They help us largely by reducing stress.
Many studies have shown that stress increases the risk for many types of disease including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, breathing problems, cognitive difficulties, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, erectile dysfunction, loss of libido, irregular periods, type two diabetes, pain, headaches, indigestion, nausea and ulcers. Stress is also inflammatory, and inflammation is a key factor in all chronic disease.
A recent study looked at how green space exposure (GSE) affected study participants’ stress levels as well as their tendency to be depressed. Not too surprisingly, the researchers found that the more green space there was within a 500-meter radius of someone’s home (500 meters is about 1/3 of a mile) the lower their stress biomarker score was. GSE was also correlated with decreases in depression. An even more recent study concluded that having views of greenness from your home could be a strategy for reducing depression.
But any time spent in nature, whether it’s in your own backyard, in a park, or at a camping site or on a nature trail, can fill your need for vitamins N and G and reduce your levels of stress. And of course often these are available free of charge or are relatively inexpensive.
The problem is finding the time and wrenching ourselves away from the comforts of home and our laptops and TVs to enter into a different mindset that has become, for too many of us, unfamiliar.
If you want immediate relief from stress and to feel good and laugh out loud at our estrangement from nature, follow this link to nature-rx.org. Under “More Videos,” scroll down to “Original Series” to watch all three videos. They’re each just a little over a minute in length.
1. Egorov AI. Vegetated land cover near residence is associated with reduced allostatic load & improved biomarkers of neuroendocrine, metabolic & immune functions. Environmental Research. March 2017;158:508-521.