Ah the great outdoors! Nothing quite compares to the feeling of sun on your skin or fresh air in your lungs. Modern life may be moving us more inside, but recent treatments have emphasised returning back to nature for a better mood, improved immunity, and pain reduction. Learn the ways you can get nurtured by nature and how it helps reduce symptoms.
Picture a forest and you may think of trees, little animals, dirt, and sunshine peeking through the leaves; but these natural joys can also be a form of treatment therapy. The term forest therapy is rooted in the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, which is translated to “forest bathing”. Not literally meaning taking a bath in the forest, but rather immersing oneself in the atmosphere. Let’s explore the benefits that it brings.
We can walk with intention, or be stuck in our ever busy minds. Unlike simply going on a hike or nature walk, forest therapy is conducted by trained guides. They intentionally use a slow pace and encourage participants to experience the joy of nature through all senses. This helps increase mindfulness and encourages being present in the moment. It also helps better the relationship between humans and the natural world.
If you’ve been in a city, you know the stress it can sometimes bring (cue honking and yelling people). It sometimes feels like a race just to get to the store. The problem is, when we have this constant stress, the hormone cortisol rises. This is a normal response that helps us get out of a dangerous situation. But when we experience it in the long-term it can cause harmful symptoms. Chronically high cortisol is associated with high blood pressure, disease, and aches and pains.
Forest therapy has been shown to help reduce cortisol. In some studies, people who had forest therapy showed physiological improvement through more balanced heart rate. The participants also reported significant decreases in pain and depression, and improvement in health-related quality of life.
Ever felt happier after going for a hike? A systematic review and meta-analysis study aimed to summarise the effects of forest therapy on depression and anxiety. It concluded that overall, forest therapy significantly improved depression and anxiety. It’s suggested that forest therapy could be a preventative and pharma companion, helping with mood related conditions. Since inflammatory bowel disease is linked to increased depression and anxiety, this could helpful to add to treatment protocols.
Being in nature can also help improve our immunity! Trees and plants offer oxygen, helping us deliver necessary nutrients throughout our bodies. They also give off essential oils, called phytoncides, which help strengthen our body’s natural immune defences.
Pain is one of the most prevalent symptoms for people suffering from IBD. And pain catastrophizing is one of the strongest predictors of the intensity of pain. Characterized by magnifying the threat of pain and feeling helpless in relation to pain, it’s typically caused by a previous painful event and results in a strong anticipation of pain. In one study that examined adults with chronic pain living in New York City, it was discovered that nearby nature buffered the relation between catastrophizing and pain intensity.
Want to learn more about pain catastrophizing? Check out: Pain Management: Power of the Mind.
Not all of us have a few days to spare in the forest for a proper therapeutic treatment. Not to worry! One study found that when participants spent at least 120 minutes per week in nature, they experienced improved health and well-being. This time can be split up into a longer trek or multiple adventures.
Snag some sun
Having access to sunlight is also essential for our wellbeing. It helps us get vitamin D which helps boost our immunity and mood. Walking after meals can also help improve digestion because it helps move food through the gut. So if possible, schedule a few minutes outdoors during a lunch break.
If you are bed ridden or practicing social distancing, you can still get some benefits of nature, even from your home. A small study found that even people who were confined to a hospital bed, recovering from gallbladder surgery, benefited from a view of nature. Those with a window looking at a natural outdoor view compared to patients looking at a brick wall, recovered more quickly and needed less powerful pain medication.
There’s even evidence that shows that nature pictures, images, and nature shows can be help. Of course they aren’t as powerful as being in nature since they don’t provide natural oxygen, sunlight, and tree oils; but one study found that when people had exposure to nature (either in person or via video) they had improvements in attention and more positive emotions around solving a problem.
Nurture with Nori
Getting outside can optimize your treatment journey. But it can be tricky to start new habits. Nori Health will help you shift your daily habits to include things like walking, outdoor time, and rest to help decrease your symptoms, improve your energy, and start feeling better. Nori Health believes in a holistic approach towards your health.
This article has been written by Lisa Booth, registered dietitian and nutritionist, and co-founder of Nori Health. Content is based on her professional knowledge and our collection of 100+ scientific research study papers.