Environmental

Nature-Based Therapies to Improve Health

BY Ashley Turner TIMEFebruary 21, 2022 PRINT

It’s long been known, especially among natural health enthusiasts, that connecting with nature has a profound impact on health and well-being. Unfortunately, many aspects of our modern world take us further from nature, with detrimental consequences to our overall health. Working long hours indoors, eating convenience foods, constantly using technology, and absorbing environmental toxins all come to mind. While there are blessings to living in our modern world, we would be wise to remember our roots are in the natural world.

Nature as Therapy

Nature is highly therapeutic. While it’s preferred to spend as much time as possible in nature, research shows that even just five minutes can be beneficial.

In “How to Raise a Wild Child,” Scott Sampson, Ph.D., the paleontologist and science communicator who hosted the PBS Kids hit “Dinosaur Train” summarizes the importance of our time in nature.

“Nature’s impact extends far beyond physical fitness, encompassing intellectual and emotional health, self-identity, and basic values and morals.”

He notes that time in nature can enhance healing, reduce stress, increase creativity, and improve self-esteem.

“Nature also has an unparalleled capacity to stir our emotions, fostering raw and powerful feelings of wonder, awe, mystery, joy—and, yes, fear. Smelling a wildflower in an alpine meadow, sprinting into the ocean surf, and sharing a face-to-face encounter with a coyote are all experiences that differ mightily from virtual alternatives.”

Research-Backed Health Benefits of Nature

  • Reduces stress
  • Boosts mood
  • Supports the immune system
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases focus
  • Accelerates healing
  • Increases energy
  • Improves sleep

Things You Should Do

Earthing

Earthing, or grounding, means having your skin in direct contact with the ground, connecting with the electrical currents coming from the ground. Much like how a house will have a copper cable dug into the earth to ground the electrical system, humans can also discharge any excess electrons by physical contact with the Earth. This is usually done by coming into contact with the earth with bare feet. Research suggests that the benefits of grounding include decreased stress, improved sleep, reduced inflammation, normalization of the cortisol circadian rhythm, and a shift of the autonomic nervous system from the sympathetic (responsible for fight or flight) toward the parasympathetic (responsible for rest and digest). Grounding has also been shown to increase heart rate variability, accelerate wound healing, improve blood viscosity, and reduce pain. This is a new area of research, and I would suggest that there are far more benefits than have been studied or quantified. Earthing is a simple, readily available therapy to gain energy “nutrition” from the surface of the earth.

How to Do It

  •       Remove footwear and stand or walk barefoot
  •       Recognize that dirt, grass, rocks, and concrete are all conductive to the earth’s electrical currents
  •       Visit a barefoot-friendly beach for vacations
  •       Plant a garden and go barefoot while tending it
  •       Take part in other healing practices such as mindfulness meditation, prayer, and/or deep breathing while earthing

Heliotherapy

Natural light is a nutrient that the body needs because of its ability to energize cells. In fact, there are over 8,000 research articles documenting the health benefits of light. Through a process called photobiomodulation, light imparts change at the cellular level. Perhaps the most effective, and certainly the most readily available light source is the sun.

d Sunlight is particularly helpful in powering the body’s natural vitamin D production. Vitamin D is a hormone created when the skin absorbs sunlight. Beyond numerous health benefits, it’s protective against chronic illness and autoimmune disease. It’s also essential for an effective immune response.

How to Do It

  • Work up to 15 minutes of daily unhindered sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Expose as much skin as possible for optimal benefit
  • Avoid toxic sunscreens (many are especially toxic for aquatic life).
  • Use protective clothing for prolonged sun exposure

Things You Should Be Careful About

Air

It is estimated that people spend 90 percent of their time indoors, where the air quality is often two to five times more toxic than outside. Indoor air contaminants can include ozone, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pathogens, mycotoxins from mold, and particulate matter from chemicals, heavy metals, acids, and dust. Paint, plastics, flooring, furniture fabric, cleaning supplies, and more contribute to this toxic load. Implementing the strategies below can reduce the toxins you are exposed to in the air you breathe.

How to Do It

  • Spending time outside breathing fresh air
  • Open windows when the weather is nice to circulate the air
  • Keep houseplants to naturally cleanse the air
  • Diffuse air-purifying essential oils such as lemon, lavender, orange, lemongrass, or melaleuca
  • Burn nontoxic beeswax candles (instead of paraffin)
  • Avoid toxic cleaning products
  • Consider purchasing or installing an air purifier for your home
  • Avoid smoking or secondhand smoke
  • Properly clean and remediate water damage to avoid mold exposure
  • Choose “no-VOC” products

Water

There’s nothing more foundational to health than clean water. Although the United States has a relatively clean water supply compared to many parts of the world, there’s still cause for concern with public water. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 48,712 water utilities in 50 states and found 267 contaminants in public water supplies. Some of the problematic toxins found were heavy metals (including lead and arsenic), pesticides, fluoride, chemical fertilizers, VOCs, medications, and radiological contaminants. These toxins have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, brain and nervous system damage, developmental harm in children or fetuses, fertility problems, and hormone dysfunction. Infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible to these harmful toxins. Making sure you have clean water can significantly reduce your exposure to environmental toxins.

How to Do It

  • Drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of clean, filtered water per day
  • Consider other sources of hydration such as bone broth, water kefir, herbal tea, and fruits and vegetables.
  • Purchase a glass or stainless steel water bottle to ensure you have quality water while on the go and to help keep track of water intake
  • Consider a quality whole-house water filter for drinking, cooking, and bathing
  • Avoid tap water as much as possible
  • Avoid plastic water bottles
  • Choose mineral water in recyclable glass bottles when purchasing water on the go

Things You Should Avoid

Reducing the Toxic Load

Toxicity is a core factor for disease in our modern world, which has an ever-increasing level of environmental toxins. In fact, there are over 85,000 chemicals registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, many of which are untested for safety. In addition to man-made synthetic chemicals, human activity has encouraged the wider release of naturally occurring toxic elements, including heavy metals such as lead and mercury, radon, and chlorine. Although these pervasive toxins have complex and highly individualized effects, there’s no doubt that having a greater toxic burden puts you at increased risk for developing chronic illness.

While many aspects of exposure to environmental toxins are out of our control, some are within our ability to manage. Making wise decisions for your home and work environment can greatly help your body’s ability to thrive.

How to Do It

  • Transition all household, personal care, and cosmetic products to nontoxic alternatives
  • Consume organic and/or beyond organic produce along with responsibly raised grass-fed animal foods.
  • Cook and store food in nontoxic vessels such as glass, stainless steel, or cast iron.
  • Exercise and sweat on a regular basis.
  • Seek a practitioner to guide you through a professional detoxification

EMFs

Electromagnetic fields, or EMFs, are invisible electric and magnetic forms of radiation. There are several natural EMF sources, including the sun, and even the human body. These are forms we’re generally well-adapted to. There are also many man-made sources of EMFs, which are very powerful and potentially dangerous to human health. These sources are increasing dramatically and come from electronic devices, power lines, and 5G towers. The recent proliferation of wireless technology has sparked a massive rise in EMF radiation due to the infrastructure for cellphones and home wi-fi.

EMFs seem to affect the body by inducing biochemical changes at the cellular level with several potential knock-on effects. The World Health Organization has declared that radiation from cellphones is potentially linked to brain cancer, and there’s evidence that cellphone radiation can harm reproductive health and brain function. I suggest limiting exposure to allow the body to heal to its full potential.

How to Do It

  • Keep cellphones away from your head, and use speaker mode when calling
  • Avoid headsets and headphones
  • Use airplane mode when not using your phone
  • Texting emits less radiation than voice communication
  • Store cellphones, laptops, tablets, and other devices away from you—not in your back pocket or on your lap
  • Consider EMF protection for your devices and home
  • If your home has a smart meter, make sure no one sleeps near the wall on which it’s installed
  • Designate certain times of the day to disconnect from devices

 

This article was republished from Radiant Life Magazine.

Ashley Turner
Dr. Ashley Turner is a traditionally trained naturopath and board-certified doctor of holistic health for Restorative Wellness Center. As an expert in functional medicine, Dr. Ashley is the author of the gut-healing guide “Restorative Kitchen” and “Restorative Traditions,” a cookbook comprised of non-inflammatory holiday recipes.
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