walk in nature for depression

‘Take A Hike’: Doctors Prescribe Natural Walks To Treat Depression and Chronic Illness

Doctors are now prescribing “walks in nature” to treat illnesses such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, PTSD, and many other long-term health conditions. Here are some examples of how doctors are using nature to help their patients improve their health.

walk in nature for depression
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  • In California, pediatrician and nature researcher with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, Dr. Nooshin Razani says “Studies show that within 15 minutes of being in nature, your stress level goes down, your heart rate, blood pressure improves.” 
  • In Scotland, the National Health Service Shetland rolled out a program called “Nature Prescriptions” to help with many illnesses.
  • A 2017 study by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that living in, or near, green areas can help women live longer and improve their mental health.
  • There is a term used in Japan called  “Forest Bathing” (“shinrin-yoku”) which means “immersing in the forest atmosphere.”
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Americans are reportedly spending 93% of their time indoors.

Well, according to a recent study by the EPA, Americans spend on average 93% of their time indoors.  That is an astonishing metric, however, when you think about how much time we spend on our phones and computers, it adds up.  The reality is that all of this time indoors is impacting our mental and physical health.   

The sun provides a natural source of Vitamin D.  Many people that struggle with depression and chronic illnesses are deficient in Vitamin D.  Here is a recent study on Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine? that talks about the impact of Vitamin D deficiency can have on our health.  

Why is this becoming a problem now?  That’s because up until the past several hundred years, humans have spent most of their time outdoors and not indoors, according to National Institutes of Health study.   Our current lifestyles have become so disconnected from nature. In fact, the current definition of nature is defined as “the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.” This is a powerful perspective as it calls out “as opposed to humans”. In the modern world, we see human beings as being separate from nature and not part of it. Of course, we would feel disconnected from it.

The practice of using nature to help our physical and emotional state is not a new concept. For thousands of years, native and Indigenous cultures around the world have been intimately connected to plants and animals.  Many of their belief systems and philosophies were connected to the plant and animal kingdom. They based their hunting and foraging of food on the natural cycles of the seasons and Mother Nature. They worked with and respected all areas of nature.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Feeling Down In The Dumps? 10 Holistic Ways To Get Out Of Your Funk

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Tree Therapy

Here is an easy, quick and effective technique to connect with nature that I call “Tree Therapy.” I use this tool with many of my clients. If you are having a rough day, take 15 minutes and sit with a tree.  

  • Find a tree in your yard, at a park, or in your neighborhood
  • Rate on a scale of 1-10, how you are feeling.  10 being the worst.
  • Put a label on the emotion you are feeling: overwhelm, panic, guilt, etc.
  • Sit or stand with your back against the tree for at least 15 minutes. – It’s important that your back is against the tree.  The analogy is that you are being supported by the tree.
  • You can meditate, listen to music, write in a journal or just observe as you sit with the tree.  (Make sure you put your phone down and stay present.)
  • Breath in the oxygen from the tree and breathe out the emotion you are feeling.
  • After at least 15 minutes, rate how you feel

Every time I do this, I always drop down at least 3 or more levels from where I originally started.  It is one of the easiest and quickest ways I can get myself out of a stressed or overwhelmed state.  I do this regularly with my daughter.  We have actually named our favorite tree, “Sam”.  Sam is a beautiful pine tree and is green all year. We love Sam. We usually sit under Sam and just talk or listen to music and watch people and dogs pass by.  

Are you ready to find your new tree friend?

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