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Rx: Spend Time in Nature

How Spending Time Outdoors Improves Health, Makes Us Feel Better

Research, worldwide, is pointing to just that: spending time in nature can help our mental and physical wellbeing. A person’s contact with nature can lead to improvements in mood and cognition, as well as cardiovascular health and healing.

To help us better understand the benefits of spending time in nature, we asked Dunkirk Family Practice physicians, Dr. Cathy Brophy and Dr. Joyce Owens to provide some insights into how venturing outdoors can provide a boost to a person’s wellbeing.

“First, we’re not talking about having to take a trip to a National Park or to a vacation spot,” said Dr. Brophy. “A natural area in your backyard, a grove of trees or wildflowers, a vegetable garden, can all provide a calming refuge to enjoy the benefits of nature.”

“Just the act of walking out your back door, taking in a deep breath of fresh air, listening to the sounds of nature, feeling the wind on your face and feeling the warmth of the sun or an evening mist on your skin, is restorative,” said Dr. Owens. “You don’t have to make it complicated by getting in a car and driving to a natural area.”

Prescription: Nature
“We’ve been telling patients, especially since Covid when so many people are trapped in the house, that when work is really stressful, just getting away from your laptop even for half an hour or 15 minutes to go outside and take a walk will make you feel so much better,” said Dr. Brophy.

Although being in sunlight allows for the absorption of Vitamin D and keeps serotonin levels up, the benefits of spending time outdoors isn’t limited to daylight hours. “I enjoy taking my dog for a walk in the evening,” said Brophy. “I enjoy seeing the stars and the moon, and hearing wildlife—we are so fortunate to live in Calvert County where we can still see the stars at night.”

“Work hours or a busy schedule shouldn’t prohibit people from spending time outdoors,” said Dr. Owens.

Mental Wellbeing
As the human species has spent most of its evolutionary time in nature, we are wired to be connected to nature in order to survive. According to the United Nations Population Division in 2002, for the first time in human history, more of the world’s population now lives in urban instead of rural areas, and this disconnection from nature may be having a harmful impact on our emotional wellbeing, according to published research.

Psychologists point to the constant stimulation in urban environments— and even in our own homes—as creating attention fatigue. Busy streets, crowded sidewalks, computers, cellphones, lights and noise vie for our attention. Whereas natural environments are restorative and provide a refuge from attention fatigue. In urban areas, our brain is trying to shut things out—in nature our brain is trying to draw experiences in. “It is important to let your brain turn away from all the chaotic day-to-day stresses and being out in nature provides a ‘sense of away’ or a ‘sense of escape’ for our brains,” said Brophy.

During Covid, Brophy recommended to patients of young children who were anxious about not being able to see their friends that they organize outings around a campfire where everyone could socialize at a distance. One of the more positive things about adjusting to life during this pandemic was spending time outdoors in areas that are easier to social distance, Brophy said.

Physical Wellbeing
As higher levels of hypertension and greater risks of heart attack can be traced back to long-term stress, lowering stress is an important factor in cardiovascular health. Stress affects blood pressure, recovery from illnesses and sleep.

“Nature is absolutely essential to human health. Cognitive benefits are seen, blood pressure improves and so does pulse,” according to Dr. Nooshin Razani, director of Center for Nature and Health. In nature, your senses awaken, your attention resets and you are better able to respond to stress. According to Drs. Brophy and Owens, people can benefit physically and mentally by spending time in nature—day or night, alone or with friends, in your backyard or in a park.

For a listing of natural areas in Calvert County, visit choosecalvert.com.
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