So you think a coffee break will do it, but you really need to take a hike, literally. First, definitions and quotations. Then we'll talk about the healing power of nature, and we’ll finish off with a Disgruntled Nugget – a little piece of wisdom you can take with you, or not, I don’t care. Also thx to Audionautix and Partners In Rhyme for the music and sound effects.Support the show
So we're going to do something a bit different with today's episode. Instead of scaring you with bad things that can happen, then showing you positive ways to avoid certain destruction and mayhem, I'm going to just tell you about the positives of taking time out of your soulless, empty, covid-filled work days in your home office and seek out the solace of nature. It's good for your heart, your soul, your brain, and your overall health, maybe even more than you think. Stick around and we'll get into all that good stuff. But first, let's look at what we're talking about. Pack your hiking boots, we're heading out.
I thought I'd start this with this definition of nature: "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." I like this take on it because it kind of takes all the crap humans do and tells us we're just not a part of it. We did this to ourselves really, but it doesn't mean we can't go back to nature, or respect nature, or recognize the inherent value in nature. It just means all our development is somewhat unnatural, which is probably why we have so many problems, and also why going back is so beneficial. Anyway, I'll stop ranting about how trash humans are and we'll get into some quotations.
Our first quotation is from Jennifer Pharr Davis, an American long distance hiker, author, speaker, National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, and Ambassador for the American Hiking Society. She has hiked over 14,000 miles on six different continents, including thru-hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail (three times), the Bibbulmun Track in Australia, and numerous trails in Europe and South America. She says, "Hiking is not escapism; it’s realism. The people who choose to spend time outdoors are not running away from anything; we are returning to where we belong." Although this is what you would expect a hiker to say, but I want to impress upon you, at the very least, her inclusion of the concept of belonging in nature.
Our next quotation comes from a seemingly unlikely source: A San Francisco poet known widely as part of the Beat Generation named Gary Snyder. He is also an essayist, lecturer, and environmental activist with anarchoprimitivist leanings. Please go and look that up, it's fascinating. Not simply a beat poet, Snyder is a winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the American Book Award and his work reflects his Buddhist spirituality and his deep sense of nature. He said, “Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” Again that sense of belonging. It's almost like a theme is emerging.
Finally we have the powerful John Muir, also known as "John of the Mountains" and "Father of the National Parks". He was an influential Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, botanist, zoologist, glaciologist, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States of America. He was instrumental in urging Congress to pass a bill in 1890 establishing Yosemite National Park. He has long exuded the deep spiritual connection to nature and has encouraged, and inspired, readers, presidents and congressmen, to move forward on many conservation projects. He said, "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity." So, let's get back to nature. Get dressed, or not.
So why am I fixated on nature and hiking. Well, for starters, getting back to nature not only makes you feel good generally, it has a lot of proven health benefits. And hiking in particular is high on my list because it requires, at the most basic level, almost no special training, skill, conditioning or equipment and is fairly accessible to most people. I've spent a lot of time in nature, a lot of hiking, but also snow shoeing, mountain biking, trail running, backpacking and camping. I'm not saying it's all easy, or for everyone, but I have never actually regretted a single time I went into the wilderness and exalted in nature. Now there's actual science to tell me why, and it's amazing. At the risk of sounding like a zombie, let's start start with your brain.
So, these last couple of years have been harder on some of than others, but being in the same place for work, meals, sleeping, and whatever else you do is tough on your mind. Just looking out the window at the street in front of your house, or your shitty, half-landscape back yard, or a parking lot can make you feel like the world is a bleak place. But here's the thing, even looking at something more natural can switch your mood. In a paper published the Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research – yes, I shit you not, it really exists – titled "The influence of forest view through a window on job satisfaction and job stress", it was stated the "The results showed a significant direct effect of forest views from windows on job satisfaction and stress. Respondents’ personal information such as gender, age and job category did not influence on the window view effects." They literally put people into offices with views of forests for a period of time, and those individuals, doing the same work the whole time, felt more satisfied in their jobs and in their performance.
So if just looking at a forest can change your perspective, can being in one be even better? I mean, I'm not asking really, but the answer is hell yes. In a fun and well-researched article by writer Florence Williams in Outdoor Magazine titled "Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning", she talked to Japanese researchers about a lot of what they refer to as "Green Therapy". Yoshifumi Miyazaki from the University of Chiba and Qing Li from the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo are exposing participants in a study to simply spend time in green environments, which include wild gardens, forests, and riparian environments. They then use field tests, hormone analysis, and new brain-imaging technology to find out changes on a molecular level. Compared with control groups spending similar time in urban environments, the green participants yield a 12.4 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a seven percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure, and a 5.8 percent decrease in heart rate. On subjective tests, study participants also report better moods and lower anxiety. This is really the benefits of going green.
So, beyond the obvious already stated, are there any other benefits of exposure to nature? I'm glad you asked, because there are tons. The Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention published an article titled "Effects of horticultural therapy on mood and heart rate in patients participating in an inpatient cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program." Without any note of surprise, you'll accept that they state, "findings indicate that Horticultural Therapy improves mood state, suggesting that it may be a useful tool in reducing stress. Therefore, to the extent that stress contributes to coronary heart disease, these findings support the role of HT as an effective component of cardiac rehabilitation." But even deeper than just stress, it can deal with other chronic issues as well. In a paper titled "Comparing Responses to Horticultural-Based and Traditional Activities in Dementia Care Programs" published in the
American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, they found that "HT-based activities are a viable and desirable choice for dementia-care programs because they successfully engage groups of participants who are often difficult to engage in activities that elicit high levels of adaptive behaviour." And it is being used to lessen the severity of PTSD in returning service men as well. Everything is better with nature's own therapy. But wait, there's more.
Since we're talking about mood and mental health, what about ADHD? Well, in an article titled "A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study" published in the American Journal of Public Health, they found that
"...green outdoor activities reduced symptoms significantly more than did activities conducted in other settings, even when activities were matched across settings. Findings were consistent across age, gender, and income groups; community types; geographic regions; and diagnoses." They even concluded that "Green outdoor settings appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics." This isn't drug therapy, or some version of behaviour modification, this is simply bringing people suffering from life-limiting disorders to a natural setting. And, really, if it works, even partially, in these individuals, just imagine the health benefits that everyone can get from simply walking on a path away from houses, offices, and urban streets. That's, literally, all it takes. So just find a lost path and take a goddamn hike. You'll thank yourself in the morning. Seriously, get lost, take a hike, do it now, why are you still listening?
Okay, so that’s it for this episode. As always, I’ll leave you with a Disgruntled nugget in a second, but first I want to thank you for listening. Remember to subscribe to this podcast, I’m on all the major platforms, and please visit www.disgruntledlifecoach.ca for all my podcasts – if you're following along, I'm not even going to talk about the w-w-w – oops, there I go. Please also follow me on twitter @lifedisgruntled, there’s a link on my website – DM me if you want some stickers. Have you heard about my stickers? They're free. Also, if you like what you’ve heard today, tell your friends. If you think this is ridiculous, still, tell your friends, I mean how hard is that?
J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote of one of his characters that “Not all those who wander are lost.” Indeed, the remarkable scientific mind of Albert Einstein takes that a step further when he said, "Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better." In a less succinct but more direct way,the massive imagination of Jack Kerouac responded by saying, “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in an office or mowing the lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” So clearly, not being lost in nature is something that you should look deep into, especially if you're on that goddamn mountain and you understand you are wandering, but not in an office, or something, I don't know, whatever ...
Again, thanks for listening, and thanks also to Audionautix and Partners in Rhyme for music and sound FX, thanks again to Neatnik for visuals, and thanks for your patience - see you in two weeks, or not, whatever...