Nature is a spa for your brain

In my last post, and probably others, I’ve mentioned how being in nature restores me. Clearly I’m not the only one since the effects of being in nature are now being studied and written about. As more and more of us are trapped in cities, leaders have figured out that green spaces will keep some people in better spirits by reducing stress. Vacant lots are becoming community gardens. It’s a welcome change.

Fan dance

Here in the sticks, nature is in my backyard quite literally so why do I still need to leave the house? Does it benefit me? Does it benefit anyone?

Sunlit fiddleheads

A resounding yes from pretty much anyone who loves to hike or kayak or fish a quiet stream. Of course up until now it’s all been anecdotally expressed. We go out and our worries seem to recede for a while as we enjoy a little peace and quiet. That’s always been pretty clear, but some folks want to know what that time is doing to our brains. How do trees make us feel better? Basically by changing the chemistry in our brains.

Life on the edge

And, let’s face it, our entire perception of the world is chemistry in our brains so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Here are the biggest benefits –

Lowered blood pressure

People are always on you to keep your blood pressure down. But why? What’s so bad about high blood pressure? Well it apparently puts too much stress on the heart and other blood vessels. If those get weak it can lead to heart attack. It’s also been linked to forms of dementia and kidney disease. So yeah, it’s bad. I guess going for a walk in the woods is better than taking pills. Less expensive, too.

White cedars & Cinnamon fern

Reduced cortisol and other stress-induced hormones

Cortisol is the hormone that activates your fight or flight response. Adrenaline is the one that kick starts a galvanic response to something scary. Important for sure, but we don’t want this stuff kicking around at high levels all the time. We all know what a shot of adrenaline feels like (like when you catch yourself just as you’re going to fall down the stairs). Can you imagine feeling like that all the time? Ugh. Cortisol increases glucose levels in the blood and ups heart rate and blood pressure for a long term get away (from say, a slavering bug-blatter beast). Great while it’s needed, but not good for a constant state even in low levels.

Holding you to the spot

Improved cell health (natural killer activity – really!)

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. NKs are a type of cell in the immune system that limits the growth of some types of tumors and also infections. They also regulate contact and exchange between other types of cells such as T-cells which are also part of the immune system. People who spend time in nature have more NK activity in the body and the NK cells themselves are more productive. Wow. Who wouldn’t want this?

The palace of the sun

Better mental acuity

Modern life, especially city life, is full of things that take mental processing – lights, movement, signs, people, unending noise, cell phones, planes, trains and automobiles. It all has to be taken in and dealt with and boy is it tiring. Getting away from that (and leaving your phone in your pack turned off) reduces the amount of work your brain has to do on a minute-by-minute basis leaving you more able to handle focused tasks when you need to. Some people have their best ideas in the shower and hiking is kind of like that. It literally gives your brain a break; a vacation.

Natural bridge

So in this time of uncertainty with the spread of the COVID-19 virus with its quarantine and travel restrictions, maybe going into nature alone is the only thing we have going for us. The thing is, it was going for us all along.

No messy inconveniences

 

11 thoughts on “Nature is a spa for your brain

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  1. Ooooh… lucky you to find that array of Bunchberries. It’s one of my favorite spring wildflowers. I used to have a small patch of them in my woods, but they seem to have disappeared. Ditto for Clintonia. I always used to look forward to seeing them here too. It isn’t spring here quite yet, but the snow (not so much of it this year) is gone and my little pond has just a small patch of ice left in it. Will “ice out” be early this year? It’s happened only a few times in March. I’m sure you will be looking for signs of spring soon… and putting a spring in your step!

  2. Most of the shots in this post are from NH and so is the bunchberry pic. It’s actually one of the last photos I took in NH as a resident. There’s lots of Clintonia in Bradford bog and also some at Fox State Forest! Ice is gone on the river just here by the house. Even on Superior it’s heading out (I was up there today).

  3. Wow! Ice out in March! I could be fly fishing in April. But… seems I am stuck in Europe until things get to some understandable level. I think each of us needs all the things mentioned. A bike ride, a hike in the trees, ahhh the kayak on the water. Then maybe the trees, the birds, the insects will tell us all the solutions we need to survive this virus and economic situation.

    1. Thanks for the tips on where to look. I’ll make a note of them. Having a knee replacement at the end of April (if that timing holds), so I might miss woods wandering during wildflower season this year.

    2. Not much solid pack ice on Superior this year. I was talking to a local in Bayfield and he said that the Sea Caves weren’t accessible at all this year so it’s no wonder the ice is going early…it never really settled in.

      And yeah, we get used to being so mobile and having such freedom. I think sacrificing a little self for the greater good is something we should all do if possible. Says the person who went up north today. (eyeroll) But northern Wisconsin is a bit of a geographic backwater so I think it was ok.

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