In the past week, how much time have you spent outside?
Let’s get even more specific. How much time have you spent in the past week not just outside, but in nature? Subtract any time that was spent talking on your phone, looking at your phone, listening to headphones, or doing anything distracting you from being aware of your surroundings, and only count the time you were actually immersed in nature. If you got at least 120 minutes of immersed-in-nature time in the past week, you’ve gotten your prescribed dose of ‘Vitamin N’. GREAT JOB!
Vitamin N… The Remarkable Nutrient That Nature Provides
Vitamin N was a term originally coined by author Richard Louv who writes about the importance of nature time and the negative consequences when we don’t get enough of it. Nowadays, you’ll even hear “Vitamin N” used within the medical community, as more and more practitioners prescribe nature as part of a non-drug approach to health problems. It’s far from a new concept, though. Physicians have been encouraging time outdoors for thousands of years. Hippocrates called walking “man’s best medicine”, and I don’t believe he was suggesting a treadmill at a gym. Over a century ago, people infected with tuberculosis were sent to mountain retreats to ‘breathe in the mountain air’. So, nature time being good for us isn’t news to anyone. The big difference nowadays is that we’ve got science-based evidence that shows nature’s health benefits are legit… and can actually help us live longer.
The Extraordinary Healing Powers of Nature
A wealth of research indicates that exposure to nature has a wide variety of health benefits. To start, it boosts your immune system. Scientists believe one way it does this is through airborne chemicals produced by plants, called phytoncides. Breathing phytoncides increases your white blood cell count, which helps to fight off infections and diseases. And then there’s the calming effect nature has on your blood pressure and heart rate. The sounds, sights, and smells of nature (at least when you’re feeling safe) decrease stress hormones like cortisol, along with inflammatory cytokines, which can otherwise be a pathway to heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Though if you’ve ever sat on the beach watching the sun set or stared out at a vista so beautiful you never want to leave, you don’t need science to tell you about nature’s powerful calming effect.
Since we evolved, for the most part, outdoors, being in sunlight is in our nature. Getting natural light from the outdoors has two big advantages: you get exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light and it keeps your circadian rhythm on track. UV light gets a bad rap because too much can cause skin cancer, but UV light, in small and safe doses, is important. Your skin absorbs UV-B rays from the sun and converts it into vitamin D, which plays many beneficial roles in your body. Vitamin D, along with outdoor natural light through your eyes, also promotes serotonin and boosts your mood, helping to protect against depression. So, in a nutshell, sunlight makes you a happier person.
And we can’t talk about nature without mentioning exercise. There’s no question exercise is the best anti-aging medicine ever. Physical activity in nature is much more fun, so the more we can take our exercise outdoors, the better our chances of sticking to it. The more we stick to it, the healthier we get. Combine exercise with regular doses of ‘Vitamin N’, and it’s like a double dose of anti-aging medicine (that goes down for most of us much easier than kale).
So, the next time you hit the road, go lose yourself in a natural landscape. No devices, no headphones, no time constraints… get outdoors, somewhere you can separate yourself from all life’s noise. When you do, take comfort in the thought you’re doing something very, very good for yourself. Another coin in the healthy living bank. Clink!