How important is a constant intercourse with nature and the contemplation of natural phenomena to the preservation of moral and intellectual health!
– Henry David Thoreu, 1851
12 Practices of Optimal Healing: Time outdoors
Today’s practice is spending time outdoors. I’m going to present some of the research that shows just how healing it is to spend time in nature and how nature can be healing for us. Then I can offer an opportunity to do this practice ourselves. Healing is something that we can learn and invest in and know how to do so that when we’re not quite right, we have techniques for righting ourselves, bringing ourselves back in the balance.
A fascinating study in a hospital looked at whether patients had a room with windows with a view of nature versus and patients without a natural feature in their window. It turns out that if you have a hospital window in your room with a tree and view of nature, you will have up to a day shorter hospital stay! That’s pretty impressive. As well, in a separate study, they found that patients windows with views of nature will use less pain medication, either less strong medicine or they will use pain medication less frequently.
Research found similar responses with sounds of nature. In a separate study, if I play you sounds of the beach or the rainforest, that too will often facilitate less pain medication.
In a different type of study, researchers look at how folks live in closed quarters. They found that having gardens and trees with more open spaces in the housing projects led to less aggressive behavior, less violence– particularly in terms of how families get along. So when there is more open space with nature, built into housing complexes, families are less violent toward one another, which is amazing. That same finding showed up in long-term care facilities with seniors- the more nature and more vegetation, in general, the less violent behavior of folks with Alzheimer’s disease.
Over the long run, spending time outdoors leads to a ability to concentrate and a greater sense of connection with the self, feeling more at ease with one’s ability, greater ease with the our own limitations and a greater sense of inward peace and tranquility. That peace and tranquility shows up with seniors. Researchers found that four sessions a week of spending time outdoors led to less depression.
In fact, when we spend time outside, we are shifting from what one might call voluntary attention, using our cell phones, our computers, focusing on work, to what we call restorative attention, time resting our attention and allowing or mind to wander. During lunch hour, during breaks, can restore our energy with sunlight and nature.
So overall, many studies have shown that nature is stress-reducing. I’d like to offer you a challenge–30 minutes a day of time outdoors. If you live near a park, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s okay too. But can you be outdoors not on your cell phone, not listening and not texting, just being in nature for 30 minutes a day? Walking, sitting, doing whatever it is, for 30 days. So the challenge is 30 minutes for 30 days of spending time outdoors. Please join me and let others know about the 30 by 30 outdoor challenge! Let’s continue to learn how we have this amazing ability to heal, simply by making a choice to take action.