Health Tip #25

health-tip-25

Bathing In Nature

Being outdoors in nature brings about a feeling of peace and restores our equilibrium.  I love being in the forest here on the Pacific North West Coast, surrounded by big trees, or walking along the beach, with the waves crashing on the shore.  I always feel better after spending time in nature.  “Shinrin-yoku,” is a Japanese healing practice of “forest bathing”.  It means spending time in a forest, to improve mental and physical health by  inhaling negative ions, essential oils and even beneficial bacteria from the forest air.

Health Benefits of Negative Ions

When we are in nature, near mountains, waterfalls, and beaches, we are exposed to negative ions.  There is evidence to show that negative ions produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood enhancing chemicals which in turn help to relieve depression and stress, and give us an energy boost.  This may be one of the reasons why being outdoors in nature has been shown to decrease stress, increase creativity, improve mood and self-esteem and improve SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder).

Touch The Earth

As I am writing this post in January, it may seem a little impractical, but one of the best ways to expose ourselves to negative ions is through grounding, or touching our bare skin to the earth, such as walking barefoot on the beach.

Nature Offers Better Air Quality

Another good reason for spending at least some time each day, outdoors in nature, is that indoor air quality is usually far worse than outdoors.  This is due to off gassing of building materials, paints, carpeting and furniture and the build up of dust and mold.

As we mentioned in the post about sleep, getting out in natural sunlight helps set our internal clock and helps us sleep better at night.

Green Exercise

Exercising outdoors in nature or green exercise can be very energizing and has the added benefit of adding variety and intensity to our workout as we move through the wind, weather and changing terrain.  Exercising outdoors has also shown to lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone).

Those who have little contact with nature have been shown to to be more likely to suffer from certain mental disorders.

Walking Meditation

And as a final note, the next time you’re outdoors in nature, why not try doing it mindfully.  Turn off the noise (music players, cell phones…) and be fully present, for at least a few moments, to the nature around you, moving in time with your breath and sensing the moment.  Truly be in nature.

Health Tip #13

health-tip-13

Eating slowly, calmly, and in a calm environment is crucial for digestion, health and weight loss.  When we eat too quickly or under stress, we cannot properly digest our food and assimilate its nutrients.  When we eat too fast, we don’t even get a chance to taste our food and we miss out on a process called, the cephalic phase of digestive response.  This is really just a fancy term for preparing the body for digestion by seeing the food, smelling the food, wanting and appreciating the food before it’s eaten.  This process is the beginning of digestion and if missed, we can’t digest our food properly.  If we are busy and distracted while we’re eating we miss out on this phase of digestion.  If we eat a meal without even really realizing we’ve eaten, the head still signals ‘hungry’ even though our bellies are full, and we will go looking for more to eat.  Another reason why it’s good to slow down while we’re eating is that eating quickly and under stress, sends the message to the brain that we’re not safe and activates the sympathetic nervous system.  We can’t digest in this state.

So what to do?  Slow down. Eat consciously.   Prioritize meal times.  If you can, take the time to set the table.  Light some candles.  Plate your food attractively.  Play relaxing music.  Take the time to look at and appreciate and smell your foods before you eat it.  Before you start to eat, take five to ten, long, slow, deep breaths.  This activates the parasympathetic nervous system and prepares the body for digestion. When you eat your food, try to be present to it.  Taste each bite in your mouth.  Feel its texture.  Eating can actually become a mindfulness practice.  In short, enjoy your food!

Don’t have time to cook?  Get in the habit of cooking slow by using a slow cooker to cook your meals while you’re at work.  Join the slow food movement and slow down your meal times.

 

Health Tip #8

health-tip-8

We hear the word stress thrown out there so often that it has kind of become meaningless.

What is the big deal about stress anyway?  The big deal about stress is that  it is the underlying factor in every disease you can think of.  We all have a weak link in our chain and under stress, that’s where the chain is going to break.  That’s where we are going to see ill health show up.  Stress can turn on disease promoting genes that might have otherwise remained switched off.  That’s a pretty big deal.

So what is stress anyway?  Stress is wanting reality to be different than it is.  Stress is fear  and lack of trust in our future. Stress is perceiving our situation in a negative way.

Stress can make us crave sugar and processed carbs to sooth our emotions and as a quick source of fuel for our muscles so we can  fight or take flight.  Stress raises our blood pressure.  Stress shuts down our digestive system making it hard for us to extract nutrients from our food and can lead to irritable bowl syndrome and other digestive disorders.

So what can we do about it?  Relax.  Find a few moments each day to unplug and slow down.  Activities that help us to relax and de-stress are ones that encourage deep, rhythmic breathing.  Deep breathing sends the message to your body that you are safe.  Some of these activities include meditation, guided meditation or visualization work, yoga, and tai chi.  Writing in a gratitude journal also affords us that little break to slow down and switch gears.  I enjoy little reminders throughout the day to stop and take a conscious, deep, cleansing breath.  I sign up for positive reminders that remind me stop, relax and refocus.  I also have a mindfulness chime app on my phone that I can set to go off periodically throughout the day as a reminder to take that much needed breath.  And finally as pictured above, one of my favorite ways to relax and de-stress is to take a walk in nature…And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul!