Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nature and Your Health

Living in the Pacific Northwest has many benefits. The towering mountains all around us, the abundance of rivers and lakes, the weekend get-aways at the coast, the amazing hikes, and the green! GREEN IS EVERYWHERE. Beautiful flowers and delicious berries greet us each spring and summer, and rich colors ease us into winter in the fall. Sometimes I think we take these things for granted, knowing that they are there, but not always appreciating them; not standing in awe as often as we should. We certainly don't EXPERIENCE LIFE outdoors enough; the way we are meant to.

We live in a culture where a whole day can go by and we won't even notice that we haven't breathed fresh air, or gazed up at the sky. We can go a full week without ever setting foot outside. Sometimes I catch myself staying inside until 4 in the afternoon without even realizing it! Most people go from house to garage, to car, to garage to office to car, well, you get the picture. This is alarming, and quite telling of what has become of our health and wellness as a society. Some people even claim that they hate being outside, or that they despise nature; instead of noticing its magesty, we regard it as some sort of annoyance- all the bugs, rain, wind, sun, humidity, etc. Camping has gone from backpacking a few miles and pitching a tent to driving the RV to a KOA right next to the interstate and plugging in the generator. How did we reach this pathetic state and how can we get back to being the primal humans that we are meant to be?

I have worked in a various gyms for 5 years now and I am still amazed at how many people come in to work out on gorgeously sunny days. It's one thing for me to have to be there because I have a scheduled shift on what just so happens to be the first nice day in a month, but to be there, inside, under glaring flourescent lights, running on a treadmill in front of a window, which they aren't looking out of because they're too busy watching TV...? What has gone wrong?

One simple thing we can do to improve our health and boost our happiness is to JUST GO OUTSIDE. Professor Jules Pretty of Essex University says that although people with mental health issues such as depression will benefit most from spending more time outside, it can lift anyone’s mood. Walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horseback-riding and farming can all have a direct positive impact on the stress hormone cortisol. He adds that exercise in the open air near water is even better for you. The professor came to his conclusions after in-depth analysis of 10 UK studies involving 1,252 people. These studies revealed further that the perfect combination for a feel-good fix is a “green and blue” option – a walk or bike ride by the sea or a lake, going fishing or sailing, and also swimming outside. Professor Pretty claims, “Every green environment improved self-esteem and mood; the presence of water generated greater effects". I don't know about you, but going for a walk in the sand and a dip in the ocean sounds blissful to me!

(I'm happier just looking at this picture!)

Some beneficial effects of exercising outdoors are:

  • Increased Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight helps prevent cancer, bone disease, depression, and helps lower and control insulin levels.

  • Being outdoors for part of the day helps reset circadian rhythms and balances hormones, which can help promote weight loss.

  • Exercising on a natural surface imparts tremendous benefit to your musculoskeletal system- uneven or natural terrain like grass fields, trails, hills, and other obstacles help to strengthen stabilizing muscles and improve balance.

  • People with special needs such as the elderly, those with an illness, or those with physical or mental disabilities often gain therapeutic benefits from activities conducted in natural environments.

  • Stress relief (measured through muscle tension, blood pressure and electrical brain activity) can be demonstrated within minutes of exposure to a green environment.

  • Done in a group, outdoor activity can provide beneficial social interaction.
If you think about it, humans spent hundreds of thousands of years outside. We were hunter-gatherers; wild humans constantly having to adapt to living among predators, building our own shelter, and harvesting and hunting our food. We had lean, fit, healthy, fast, agile, and able bodies. We didn't have ellipticals, ab machines, or diet shakes to help keep us *looking* fit (*because that's about all they do). Now, we have DEvolved into what one of our favorite fitness entities (Wild Fitness) likes to call "Zoo Humans", meaning we are living in an environment that is much different than the one we are meant to be in. With our natural environment changing into an artificial, closed-in, unstimulating one, our health - mental, physical, emotional and spiritual - has also suffered to a tremendous degree.

You have the power to change your life. You wake up every day and make choices that will impact your life in different ways, negatively and positively. Choose to treat yourself like the awe-inspiring, marvelous being that you are; reconnect with yourself, reconnect with nature, do the things that bring you joy and exhileration. Make yourself feel GOOD, like REALLY and TRULY good. Feel happy to your core.

Go outside and play.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mother Earth has had ENOUGH

Ramman made this slide show in response to the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: