Taking a walk in the woods, sitting under the trees, or being in a green area, are all ways that we can support our innate immune system. Our immune system responds favorably to activities that are relaxing, positive and joyful.
Here’s why and how:
- Listening to the sounds of nature such as running water, stimulates the relaxation response (opposite of fight or flight), thus reducing our negative response to stressors. Our muscles relax, our heart rate slows, and our blood pressure can lower. Also, the sounds of nature such as waterfalls and ocean waves can draw our attention away from troubling thoughts and emotions. Instead, we can focus on something pleasant in our environment.
- Looking at pictures of nature helps to lower stress levels. Studies have shown that viewing green pictures are particularly helpful in recovery from illness. When you can’t be outside, It’s helpful to have photos or paintings of natural green scenery at your desk and in your home.
- Plants in the forest give off chemicals called (phytoncides) that support our immune system by increasing “natural killer cells” – these are our immune system’s cancer-fighting cells (for plants the chemicals help to kill insects and prevent rot). The next time you are out in the woods, enjoy inhaling and smelling the aromatic compounds that are helping your body.
- Being in nature and off our electronic devices, helps us to feel calm, less stressed and better able to focus (this is good for children, too). Going for hikes with our cellphones off, helps release us from the stress of constantly checking in. You can still use the camera function, and you have the phone for emergencies. Otherwise, trade in the stimulation from your phone for the natural sounds and colors around you.
- Walking in a natural environment improves our general mood. Positive mood is associated with healthy immune function and general well-being. If you’re feeling down and sad, getting out in some green space can attune you to the beautiful moments that are happening in our world, and help take you out of negative-thinking mode.
- Walking in nature helps to improve our sleep and energy level. If you are having difficulties with getting a good night’s sleep, include a walk in the early morning. The early morning sun helps cue our brain that it’s time to start the day. Then, in the evening, take a look at the sunset. This helps to set the waking and sleeping rhythm. Sleeping is vital to our ability to heal.
- Being in nature gives us an opportunity to hit the pause button on life and re-evaluate what we need to be well. Sometimes, it’s difficult to create space for ourselves during our busy day. Take some time outside to rest, and think about what’s really important to you, and what could wait. Then use your insights to make some life adjustments, when you get home.
Just 2-3 days spent in nature can have positive effects that last up to 30 days. Hmm, good excuse to shift weekend activities. Next time you have a weekend available, plan for some Mother-Nature time for you and your family. Your body will thank you!