This modern hermetically-sealed lifestyle is turning many into indoor zombies: with dulled senses, suppressed immune systems, depressed spirits and sharply increased risk for illness and disease. One can hardly call that living -- particularly when the healing power of nature is so close at hand and literally, outside your front door.
If you are suffering from a nature deficiency, and there's a good chance you are, the good news is that it's an easy fix -- with benefits that have the power to change the course and quality of your life. Here's how to get started:
Here comes the sun.
Though many of us have been scared off the stuff, sunshine in moderation is essential to our health. It enables the body to create Vitamin D, which is key to boosting immunity and warding off serious disease. How to slip in a bit of sun without booking a flight to the Bahamas? Eat lunch outdoors a few times a week. When the days grow shorter, get out there for a brisk walk, point your face to the sun and get your dose of D.
What's that smell?
Stale office air, off-gassing office carpets and chemical-spewing copy machines at work all chip away at our overall health. Why steep yourself in it? Get out at lunchtime, even if it's just to pick up some food from down the street. While you're walking, take a few deep breaths and fill your lungs with fresh outdoor air instead of the re-circulated indoor stuff. It will help clear your lungs, boost alertness and reduce your exposure to office toxins.
In the evening, take a walk around the neighborhood with one of your kids, to sneak in a bit of fresh air, plus that all-important quality time. When I was growing up my father used to take a 30-minute walk with either me or my brother several times a week and I remember how we each relished the time we spent on our one-on-one walks with dad.
Keep it simple.
Getting into the great outdoors doesn't necessarily mean climbing Kilimanjaro -- although I highly recommend walks and hikes in peaceful locales. Sometimes, the wilderness is where you find it. Even a 10-minute break on a bench in a quiet park or garden will help calm your mind and reconnect you with the natural world. If getting yourself and the kids outdoors is a challenge, make a celebration of it. One of my patients turned an annual summer meteor shower into a friends and family star-gazing event, complete with a picnic dinner for all and kids on the lawn in sleeping bags on the watch for shooting stars.
Listen to the world around you.
Just as honking horns, barking dogs and crying babies can escalate irritation and blood pressure levels, soothing sounds from the natural world can calm the mind and body, and help bring blood pressure back down into the healthier range. When possible, head to a peaceful park, take the headphones off and listen to the sounds around you.
If getting outside isn't an option, sound machines that replicate the sound of things like streams, running water and soft rains can help bring the sounds of nature indoors -- at least till you can get out for a dose of the real thing.
Surprise your eyes.
Make your brain work a little harder by exposing your eyes to the ever-changing light and colors of the natural world. More vivid than any computer screen, the colors found in nature actually force your brain to work a bit harder to process it all -- helping to increase activity in the brain and develop those neural pathways. Think of it this way: Step outside and get smarter -- now that's a no-brainer!
Explore new ground.
Hug a tree. Lie in the grass. Dig your toes deep into the sand by the sea. Bottom line: Connect physically with the earth and natural world to energize your body. By making regular contact with the ground, you'll restore and help maintain the body's natural electrical balance, thereby promoting your optimal health. To read more about the "earthing" connection to wellness, take a look at the fascinating new research in "earthing."
No matter what big pharma would like us to believe, ultimately, true health just doesn't come in pill form: It comes from the things we do to promote our well-being. Though most of us know that spending time at the beach, in the woods or far beyond the city limits is a rejuvenating experience, it's important to remember that nature has the power to heal -- as long as we give it a chance, so get out there.