Personal-physical eco-healing explores the various ways human beings turn to nature to improve their physical health.
For example, in the late 19th century, European healthcare professionals initiated the sanatorium movement, where rest, fresh air, and the outdoors were considered essential to a patient’s cure from the ravages of tuberculosis. In the mid-1980s, researchers began to examine more seriously the role nature plays in physical health. Studies during this decade began to reveal that the simple act of being in nature, regardless of the size of the area, has a positive physiological impact on the body, reducing blood pressure, respiration rate, and stress hormones (Baum, et al, 1982; Ulrich & Simons, 1986).
Today, despite an increasingly sedentary and technology-based culture, people continue to spontaneously turn to nature, enjoying hobbies such as gardening, running, walking, fishing, golfing, and horseback riding.
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
At fifty, James was beginning to feel the effects of working sixty hours a week, rarely exercising, and eating lunch at his desk. He was overweight, had high blood pressure, and always felt tired. On the advice of his doctor, James began a green exercise program with a local community group that walked through the countryside on Saturdays.
James was awed by the natural display of the trees and the quiet hum of wildlife along the hiking trails. The group gradually began jogging and rock climbing. Within a few months, James’s blood pressure had decreased, he had lost several pounds, and he had more energy. “Just by spending time outdoors each week I felt rejuvenated and relaxed when I came into the office on Monday,” he said.
Before you go out into nature, assign and write down a number on a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent) that describes your physical, mental, and spiritual health. (You should have 3 numbers.)
Then go for a leisurely walk in nature, stopping as you wish to enjoy the scenery or rest. Practice deep breathing as you walk, or sit down if you prefer.
When you return, immediately evaluate yourself using the same scale. Has anything changed as a result of your walk?
Get Outside. A 2010 Seattle Times article revealed that modern American adults are spending more time engaging in an indoor sedentary lifestyle, which has harmful implications for health. One striking statistic: women who sat for more than six hours per day were 37% more likely to die than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. On the other hand, adults who spent time in the forests of Japan showed lower cortisol levels, pulse rates, and blood pressure. The implications for nature and health are clear: get outside and get healthy (Bowman, 2010).
Choose to Walk in Nature. Nature researchers Elizabeth Nisbet and John Zelenski examined the differences between students who walked across their Carleton University campus outside and those who used the tunnels. They found that the outdoor walkers experienced more relaxation, greater fascination, and fewer negative emotions than those who walked indoors. The researchers recommend that all people take advantage of nearby nature—your health and wellbeing benefit by the exposure (Nisbet & Zelenski, 2011).
Take Your Children Outside. Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods focuses on the problems children face when they spend too much time inside with television, video games, and smart phones. Louv suggests that this lack of nature and exercise has contributed to the rise in children’s health problems, including obesity and hypertension. He urges parents to incorporate nature into their family activities and encourage their children to explore the outdoors (Louv, 2008).
Baum, A., Singer, A.E., Baum, C.S. (1982). Stress and the environment. In Evans, G.W. (Ed.), Environmental Stress (pp. 15-44). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bowman, L. (2010). Medical: spending time outside has many health benefits. The Seattle Times, August. Retrieved January 24, 2013. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/outdoors/2012594800_weboutside13.html
Burns, G. (1998). Nature-Guided Therapy: Brief Integrative Strategies for Health and Well-Being. New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. New York: Algonquin Books.
Nisbet, E., Zelenski, J. (2011). Underestimating nearby nature: affective forecasting errors obscure the happy path to sustainability. Psychological Science; 22, 1101.
Osborne, T. (2008). Kids’ eyes need the great outdoors. New Scientist, August. Retrieved January 24, 2013. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14445-kids-eyes-need-the-great-outdoors.html.
Park, B.J, Tsunetsugu, Y., et al. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine; 15(1), 18-26.
Schultz, P.W., Tabanico, J. (2007). Self, identity, and the natural environment: exploring implicit connections with nature. Journal of Applied Social Psychology;37(6), 1219-1247.
UK: Outdoors and Health Network, Interdisciplinary group advocating for advanced research on the relationship between outdoor environments and health. (2010, July). Video. http://vimeo.com/12608524
Ulrich, R.S., Simons, R.F. (1986). Recovery from stress during exposure to everyday outdoor environments. In Wineman, J., Barnes, R., Zimring, C. (Eds.), Proceedings of the Seventeenth Annual Conference of the Environmental Design Research Association (pp. 115-122). Washington, D.C.: EDRA.