Is There Enough Vitamin N In Your Life?
Growing up, Teresa Bruffey was passionate about nature-passionately against it. To the self-conscious Seattle teen, the outdoors seemed dirty, scary, and uncomfortable.
When she did spend time in nature, her suspicions were validated: Sand snuck into her swimsuit at the beach, chafing her skin; flies buzzed around her at picnics, freaking her out Communing with Mother Earth, she maintained, was not her thing.
Until one day, it was. Sometime after college, a boyfriend convinced Teresa to join him on an overnight backpacking trip to nearby Kaleetan Peak. “I was terrified, panicked about it getting dark and animals lurking in the wilderness, “she says. “But when I woke up, it was blue sky and mountains all around. Everything was still and beautiful. I just felt, I don’t know, full.”.
Teresa had always been active; she ‘d even taken up rock-climbing-though always indoors. But after the camping trip, she began climbing outside, dragging friends along and overcoming a fear of heights in the process. “Being in nature reset my confidence and peace of mind,” she says.
Intuitively, her story makes sense-remember your parents’ mantra “Fresh air will do you good”? But it now also makes sense scientifically. “The vast majority of evidence points in one direction: We can be happier, healthier, and smarter if we weave more nature into our lives,” says leading naturalist Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle.
He points to a surge in studies that strongly suggest a link between the outside and your insides, and that the best mind-body medicine may lie right beyond your front door.
From Green To Black
For 5 million years, humans depended on nature for just about everything, including food, shelter, and the regulation of sleep cycles, says M. Sanjayan, Ph.D., lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy.
“Nature guided us in a very direct way,” he says. “But in the past thousand years, that started shifting; in the past 50, it has really shifted. To think that we could adapt to that in a few generations is ludicrous.”.
Like Louv, Sanjayan believes humans are biophilic-that we have an innate attraction to, and connection with, nature. And that the sudden absence of nature from our lives could throw our well-being way off-kilter.
In fact, the modern way of living, complete with loads of indoor time, has given rise to what Louv has coined “nature-deficit disorder,” a condition that may come with adverse health effects.
For example, one study found that the farther you Jive from green space, the likelier you are to be in poorer health. Other research suggests that rising rates of allergies and autoimmune disorders might be caused, in part, by Jess exposure to healthy bacteria found in nature.
Still more science has linked reduced exposure to nature to higher risk for obesity, cancer, heart disease, anxiety, and depression. Women seem to be sinking deep into nature-deficit disorder.
Per our survey, “Health Benefits of Nature,” those who felt too stressed were more likely than non-frazzled women to spend a free day curled up on the couch.
The picture gets worse when those stressed women actively try to relax: 54 percent plunk themselves in front of the TV, 44 percent eat, and 31 percent have a glass of wine; only 26 percent head out for a walk in the park.
Yet the cure for nature-deficit disorder-not to mention a host of other ailments, might lie in that simple walk. A whopping 86 percent of stressed-out women said their mood improves when spending time outdoors in nature.
That would come as no surprise to Louv, who touts even small doses of” vitamin N” (as in nature) as a powerful protector of your body and mind.
Forces Of Nature
The most cutting-edge research on the nature-health link is happening in Japan, where scientists are measuring the physical effects of” forest bathing.”
One study found that people’s blood pressure, resting heart rate, and levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) were all significantly lower after a 15-minute nature walk compared with a l5-minute city walk.
Another experiment found a 37 percent spike in the number of women’s natural killer cells-the backbone of the immune system after they spent a few hours in the woods.
Where, exactly; the benefits are coming from is still unclear. What is clear is that vitamin N can also have profound effects on your brain.
Modern multitasking over taxes brain areas that are involved in suppressing distractions, thinking creatively, and developing a sense of identity,” says David Strayer, Ph.D., a neural scientist at the University of Utah. “Getting out into nature allows those parts of the brain to restore and replenish themselves.”.
Strayer recently co-Jed a study that found people were 50 percent more creative after spending four days backpacking in nature. Separate research shows that people’s memory power and attention span rose significantly after an hour-long walk in an arboretum.
Soaking in vitamin N may also be the easiest mood lift ever: When people took hour-long walks in a park versus a mall, a stunning 90 percent of them reported higher self-esteem, and 71 percent said they felt less depressed, per research at the University of Essex in the U.K. (Nearly half the mall rats reported feeling worse about themselves and some felt depressed.)
The same researchers found it’s not just “green” outings that do the trick: “Blue-green” exposure-i.e., time spent near rivers, lakes, or oceans-had the most positive emotional effects.
Kind of makes you want to get outside, like, immediately. Right?
The Fresh Air RX
Some doctors find the data so compelling that they’re writing “nature prescriptions” to help prevent and treat conditions ranging from heart disease to diabetes to depression.
Daphne Miller, M.D., a family physician in San Francisco, hands her patients park maps with instructions on which trails to take and whether to walk, run, or just sit outside. “Nature therapy can be a powerful intervention,” she says. “People are more likely to stick to it, it’s readily available anywhere, and it’s free.”.
Even if your M.D. isn’t writing you scripts for two loops around the lake, you should still get on board with nature therapy. In fact, per our “Health Benefits of Nature” survey, most women already understand that nature is good for health, and 73 percent wish they could spend more time outside.
But the excuses keep mounting: Women are too intimidated by too-hot or too-cold weather (53 percent), too busy (44 percent), or too comfortable hanging out at home (22 percent).
The truth is, you don’t even need to move much to score a healthy dose of vitamin N. Those “forest bathing” studies found the same stress level, heart-rate, and blood-pressure reductions in people who spent l5 minutes just sitting in a chair in the woods.
Other research shows that five minutes in any kind of natural setting is enough to boost your mood. So feel free to start small with a trip to a local park or a walk around a reservoir. (” The more nature you get, the better you’ll feel,” says Miller.) Then forget about limiting yourself; mega doses of vitamin N don’t come with any negative side effects.