The Nature Fix: The Three-Day Effect

Thank you to REI and Florence Williams for this wonderful read. Science is backing up what we already know about the healing power of nature. 

THE NATURE FIX: THE THREE-DAY EFFECT

written by: Florence Williams

Ken Sanders is a seller of rare books in Salt Lake City. Before that, he used to guide rafting trips down the Green and Colorado rivers for commercial clients and for his pals, like Edward Abbey. Starting on the third day, he’d notice the vibe of the whole group change.

“An awareness sets in that the river is now your new reality,” says Sanders, who’s been running rivers for 40 years. “The ritual of unloading the boats, setting up your campsite, gathering around the fire, sharing meals, etc. is now your day-to-day existence. It’s a bonding experience. Your old reality fades away.”

Sanders shared his observation with cognitive neuroscientist David Strayer, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Utah. It immediately struck a chord with Strayer, an avid backpacker who noticed that some of his best ideas emerged after three days of camping out.

“Having hiked around the desert for years, I noticed in myself, and from talking to others, that people think differently after being out in the desert. Their thoughts are clearer, they’re certainly more relaxed, they report being more creative,” says Strayer. “If you can disconnect and experience being in the moment for two or three days, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking.”

Strayer wanted to find ways to test what he started calling “the three-day effect,” a kind of neural reboot that might boost creativity. “I wanted to try to understand what was going on inside the brain,” he says.

So, for a study published in 2012, Strayer and his colleagues Paul and Ruth Ann Atchley from the University of Kansas administered tests to 28 backpackers before and after going on Outward Bound trips. Immediately after a trip, the participants performed 47 percent better in a word-test game that measures creative thinking and insight problem-solving. The game is called the Remote Associates Test, or RAT. It poses a series of three words; for example, tug, gravy and show. The test taker has to come up with the fourth word that fits with all three; in this case, boat.

“A near 50 percent improvement is huge!” says Strayer.

What caused it? Strayer believes the frontal cortex (our executive taskmaster) of the backpackers’ brains got a much-needed break. Strayer often studies networks in the brain, especially the attention network, which typically gets pretty fried in the normal course of life these days. So many things demand our attention: emails, pings, deadlines, chores, grocery lists, elusive parking spots, and, as William Wordsworth put it, all the “getting and spending.” The world, wrote the poet, “is too much with us.” And that was in the early 1800s!

When the attention network is freed up, other parts of the brain appear to take over, like those associated with sensory perception, empathy and productive day-dreaming.

“That first day in nature, your mind is recalibrating and you start to notice things a little bit, to unwind from the modern world,” says Strayer. “You notice cloud patterns, sounds and smells, and it becomes really acute. You don’t need a watch anymore. You forget what day of the week it is.”

The Strayer team’s results caught the attention of some other neuroscientists, such as University of Nebraska researcher Frank Ferraro III, who normally studies addictive behaviors. Curious to see if he could replicate the creativity findings, he gave a similar RAT test to college students before and after a six-day canoeing trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. This time he also had a control group, a bunch of students who would take the test six days apart in a classroom setting. The earlier results were confirmed: The campers showed a 50 percent improvement after the trip, but there was no meaningful change in the control group.

An older study suggests the cognitive surge isn’t just a vacation effect. In 1991 psychologist Terry Hartig and colleagues tested backpackers as well as people taking sightseeing and other types of vacations, and found increased performance only in the backpackers.

Now Strayer is drilling down further to a part of the attention network, the midline of the frontal cortex, where theta waves become active when we are performing demanding cognitive tasks. He already has data indicating those waves quiet down out in nature, but not, notably, if you’re using your phone at the same time.

His advice: Go outside for three days, and turn the phone off.

Ken Sanders agrees. “I think it takes the first two days and nights to wash away whatever veneer of civilization you have brought with you. The new reality begins on that third day.”

Borrowed on May 8, 2020 from:  https://www.rei.com/blog/camp/the-nature-fix-the-three-day-effect

Shinrin-Yoku

I’ve loved hiking in the woods ever since my Aunt Ree took me on my first walk in the woods as a small child. It felt like I entered a brand new world – a magical world of trees, moss and animals. A world apart from my normal everyday life, which was far from magical and far from peaceful. I still remember having my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with her on a stop along the trail. It was the most peace I had ever felt. Still today, I find solace in the woods, and hike as often as possible. 

Tomorrow I am taking a class in Shinrin-Yoku –  or “forest bathing”.  I already KNOW how great I feel after being in nature, hiking, kayaking, walking – but I’m excited to learn more about the health benefits of forest bathing from a scientific standpoint. Below is a great article written by Karin Evans and published in the Greater Good Magazine.

I’ve also added a quick 1 minute video (scroll down to the bottom) for those who don’t have the time to read the article; i.e. those of you that would probably benefit from a great forest bath  😉

Why Forest Bathing Is Good for Your Health

From the Greater Good Magazine – Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_forest_bathing_is_good_for_your_health#thank-influence

Though any kind of nature can enhance our health and happiness,
there’s something special about being in a forest.

BY KARIN EVANS | AUGUST 20, 2018

“Nature deficit disorder” is a modern affliction. With more people living in cities, working in high-rise office buildings, and becoming addicted to their innumerable electronic devices, many of us are indeed experiencing a nature deficit. This is true for children and adults alike.

In his new book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, Japanese medical doctor and researcher Qing Li presents some sobering statistics: By 2050, according to the United Nations Population Division, three quarters of the world’s people will live in cities. Even now, the average American spends 93 percent of the time indoors, and some ten hours a day on social media—more than they spend asleep.

The Kumano Kodo trail in Japan

In Japan, there’s enough awareness about this deficit that Li heads up an organization called The Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, which promotes research on the therapeutic effects of forests on human health and educates people on the practice of forest bathing. His book—a companion to the center he runs—explores research on these benefits, while offering a number of techniques we can use to enhance them.

“Some people study forests. Some people study medicine. I study forest medicine to find out all the ways in which walking in the forest can improve our well-being,” writes Li.

The history of forest bathing

Japan is a country that is both urbanized and heavily forested. Trees cover two-thirds of the island’s landmass, and yet a majority of Japan’s people live in crowded city conditions. Li himself lives in Tokyo, a city he describes as “the most crowded city in the world.”

Perhaps that’s why the art of “forest bathing”—shinrin-yoku—began there. Forest bathing involves slowly walking through a forest, taking in the atmosphere through all your senses, and enjoying the benefits that come from such an excursion.

In 1982, Japan launched a national program to encourage forest bathing, and in 2004, a formal study of the link between forests and human health began in Iiyama, Japan—a place particularly known for its lush, green forests. Now, each year upwards of 2.5 million people walk those forest trails as a way to ease stress and enhance health.

Li’s interest in forest research began when he was a stressed-out medical student. He went away for a week of forest camping, and found it restored his physical and emotional health. That inspired him to begin researching the benefits of forests on human health and well-being. In 2004, he helped found the Forest Therapy Study Group, aimed at finding out why being among trees makes us feel so much better.

The healing power of the forest

<a href=“http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/052555985X?ie=UTF8&tag=gregooscicen-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=052555985X”><em>Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness</em></a> (Viking, 2018, 320 pages)

Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness (Viking, 2018, 320 pages)

After years of careful study, Li has found that spending time in a forest can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and anger; strengthen the immune system; improve cardiovascular and metabolic health; and boost overall well-being.

“Wherever there are trees, we are healthier and happier,” writes Li. And, he adds, it isn’t about exercising—like hiking or jogging—it’s simply about being in nature.

Why would this be? It’s long been recognized that humans have a biological need to connect with nature. Some 20 years ago, American biologist E. O. Wilson noted that humans are “hardwired” to connect with the natural world, and that being in nature had a profoundly positive effect on human health.

Li’s research seems to corroborate this. For example, one of his studies looked at whether forest bathing could improve sleep patterns among middle-aged Tokyo office workers who tended to suffer sleep deficiency due to high levels of stress. During the study, participants walked the same amount of time in a forest that they usually did in a non-forest setting on a normal working day. After a walk in the forest, participants were significantly less anxious, slept better, and slept longer. In addition, researchers found that afternoon walks were even more beneficial than morning walks.

“You sleep better when you spend time in a forest, even when you don’t increase the amount of physical activity you do,” reported Li.

To further assess the effects of time spent in a forest, Li measured people’s moods before and after walking in the woods or in an urban environment. While other studies have shown that walking anywhere outdoors reduces depression, anxiety, and anger, Li found that only the experience of walking in a forest improved people’s vigor and reduced fatigue.

The health secrets of trees seem to lie in two things—the higher concentration of oxygen that exists in a forest, as compared to an urban setting, and the presence of plant chemicals called phytoncides—natural oils that are part of a plant’s defense system against bacteria, insects, and fungi. Exposure to these substances, says Li, can have measurable health benefits for humans. Physiological stress is reduced, for example, and both blood pressure and heart rate are lowered. Evergreens—pine, cedar, spruce, and conifers—are the largest producers of phytoncides, so walking in an evergreen forest seems to have the greatest health benefits.

How to do forest bathing

So, is there a specific art to forest bathing? Or is it just as easy as a walk in the woods?

Connecting with nature is simple, writes Li. “All we have to do is accept the invitation. Mother Nature does the rest.” Here are some of his suggested steps.

Find a spot. Depending where you are, find a good source of nature. One doesn’t need to journey deep into a forest for these benefits. Just look for any green area. It could be an urban park, a nature preserve, or a trail through suburban woods. Forests with conifers are thought to be particularly beneficial.

 “Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you,” Li says. Some people will respond to sunny glades, others to shadier places. Listen to your own wisdom. For people who don’t have access to a forest, or can’t get outside for some reason, infusing essential tree oils in your home can provide benefits, too.

Engage all your senses. “Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and feet,” says Li. Actively listen, smell, touch, and look. “Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm.”

Don’t hurry. Slow walking is recommended for beginners. And it’s good to spend as much time as possible. You’ll notice positive effects after twenty minutes, says Li, but a longer visit, ideally four hours, is better.

Try different activities. Try doing yoga in the woods, or Tai chi, or meditation. Take a picnic. Write a poem. Study plants. You can venture alone, or with a companion. In Japan, forest walking therapists are even available.

Appreciate the silence. One of the downsides of urban living is the constant noise. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a wooded area that’s free from human-produced sound. Silence is restorative, and a forest can have its own healing sound—rustling leaves, a trickle of water, birdsong. Spend a few quiet moments with a favorite tree. If nothing else, when we connect with nature we are reminded that we are part of a larger whole. And that, Li notes, can lead us to be less selfish and to think more of others.

Li’s book, which includes illustrations and a map of “40 Beautiful Forests Across the World,” is an invitation and an inspiration to take a walk in the woods, wherever you are.

VIDEO:  What is Japanese Forest Bathing and How Can It Improve Your Health?

The 7 (Proven) Keys to Improving Your Mental Health!

In honor of World Mental Health Day!!

THE 7 (PROVEN) KEYS TO IMPROVING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

Taken from Melli O’Brien’s blog, with permission from Melli ~ one of my FAVORITE mindfulness teachers! 

AddictionAnxietyArticlesBrain HealthDepressionHappinessHealthHelpful Habits, Mindfulness, Research, Stress

Did you know that one in five people these days are affected by mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression? These days many of us are also struggling with stress and overwhelm as the pace and demands of life increase.

I believe now more than ever we all need to commit to making our mental health a priority.

In honour of World Mental Health Day, here are seven proven tips that will improve your mental health and boost your well being.

1.  EXERCISE REGULARLY

It’s well known that exercise is important for keeping our bodies healthy, but did you know that exercise is also vital for good mental health? Research shows that people who exercise regularly have better mental health, reduced risk of developing mental illness and greater emotional well being too.

 HOW EXERCISE BOOSTS YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

  • Exercise increases your energy levels both mentally and physically.
  • Exercise helps you sleep better, and good sleep helps regulate your emotions.
  • Exercise can improve confidence and self-esteem as you achieve a healthy goal and take care of yourself.
  • Exercise changes hormones and chemicals in the brain in mood boosting ways including an ‘endorphin rush’ that increases feelings of calm and happiness as well as improving focus and memory.
  • Physical activity can be an outlet for irritation, frustration and bad moods.
  • Exercise is a powerful way to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness. For example research suggests exercise can be as effective as medication or speaking to a psychologist for overcoming mild depression.

 THINK ABOUT STARTING SMALL

Keeping physically active doesn’t have to mean working out at the gym, it can be simply going for a walk in the park. Experts advise that at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week is ideal. If you’re not currently exercising why not start small with a goal that feels immediately achievable – like just 5 to 10 minutes a day. Start small and you can build up from there. This is often the best way to form new habits.

2.  PRACTICE MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness (a form of meditative awareness) involves training our attention and learning to have a more wise and skillful relationship with our own minds. Mindfulness teaches us to unhook from unhelpful and unproductive thought patterns and behaviours. It involves learning to steady our awareness in the present moment rather than getting lost in our heads worrying, ruminating about problems or locked into self-criticism or negative judgements.

 RESEARCH SHOWS THAT MINDFULNESS…

  • Reduces stress, depression and anxiety
  • Increases stress resilience
  • Brings feelings of peace and inner calm
  • Improves relationships
  • Improves overall sense of well being and life satisfaction

3.  EAT A HEALTHY DIET

What we eat affects how we feel. If you’ve ever watched how quickly sugar can have an effect on the mood of small children (and adults too) or if you’ve ever felt dull and tired after a heavy lunch of carbs you’ll have seen and felt the effects that foods we choose to eat can have.

But it’s not just sugar and heavy carbs. All kinds of foods can also have short-term as well as long-lasting effects on your mental health. Your body needs a mix of nutrients and minerals to function well, so making sure you’re eating a good diet is truly vital for mental health.

A HEALTHY DIET INCLUDES

  • A variety of fresh vegetables and fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • A good source of protein, from either fish meats (from good sources) or plant-based
  • Regular water consumption 6- 8 glasses per day
  • Potentially dairy, grains and complex carbohydrates like beans, lentils, pumpkin etc

               TRY TO LIMIT

  • How much caffeine you drink
  • How much sugar is in your diet
  • Taking in a lot of intoxicants
  • Things you are intolerant or allergic to

4.  DRINK IN MODERATION

Many people who overindulge in drinking alcohol (or other substances) commonly do it to change their mood. Although it may numb or overcome a difficult feeling for a while, the effects are short-lived. Alcohol doesn’t deal with the causes of difficult feelings or solve our problems. It makes them worse. There are much healthier ways of dealing with difficult feelings including the other ones listed in this post.

Occasional drinking in moderation is quite healthy and enjoyable for most people. As a useful guide to drinking in moderation, keep in mind that the daily alcohol limit recommended by alcohol.gov.au is no more than two standard drinks per day. 

5.  PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION

Do you have a harsh inner critic? It’s common to beat ourselves up and berate ourselves but research shows this habit of self-criticism comes at a price: It makes us lose confidence, feel unhappy with our lives and even leads to depression and anxiety.

Self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves more kindly and studies show it makes us happier and gives us better overall emotional well being (as well as a whole host of other benefits too).

In a report published by three German psychologists, which examined 79 studies on the link between self-compassion and well-being, they reached this conclusion: People who are kinder to themselves tend to be happier.

Kristin Neff, who has been a pioneer in the study of self-compassion says, “With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.”

You can try some exercises to learn greater self-compassion as well as some guided meditations here. 

6.  KEEP IN TOUCH

We humans are social animals. We crave to feel connected and supported and to feel valued by others. Studies have shown that social connection is a vital key to good mental health.

Good social connection has even been linked to having a longer life. In one study on an elderly population people with strong social and community ties were two to three times less likely to die during the nine-year study.

Sometimes social connection can be a heart-to-heart talk over coffee but sometimes it can be a short phone call, or an email or message. Make sure to make time to connect with the loved ones in your life on a regular basis.

If you feel your current social life isn’t giving you enough connection, you can take steps to form new ones such as

  • Enroll in a class or hobby that interests you. You’ll be able to connect with others who share a common interest as well as getting out there and trying something new.
  • Join a book club, hiking club or other group such a knitting, meditation groups, fitness groups, community gardens or mothers groups.
  • Try volunteer work. Not only will you bond with other volunteers and recipients but helping others gives you that warm fuzzy feeling too.
  • Reach out and connect to people. Ask people out for coffees, dinners or to events like movies or bands. Try to get out and meet new people.

7.  DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE

What activities do you love doing just for the fun of it? You know the ones you really lose yourself in? Take some time each day to do things you love and just enjoy yourself.

It could be engaging in a hobby like music, art, gardening or going hiking or riding and bike. It could be just having a cup of tea in the sun. Take some each week (or even each day) to just enjoy life and let go of all your cares and worries for a while. Research also shows that it improves confidence and self esteem as well as improving our overall sense of well being.

The BodyTalk System – Part 1 – What is BodyTalk?

Enjoy Part 1 of What is BodyTalk?

presented by BodyTalk’s founder Dr. John Veltheim.

 

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