Nature truly is medicine.
I’m not just talking about natural medicines, like how ginger helps an upset tummy or how lavender can be a benefit for those of us with high blood pressure.
I’m talking about how nature heals by simply surrounding ourselves with it—either within our homes, or by getting outside. It can even be done when you’re in a concrete, urban environment—yep! Being in nature helps our hearts, it positively affects the health of our brains, and it helps us live longer.
1. Our hearts:
Obviously, physical activity is always good for our cardiovascular health. And we know that getting out into nature helps our mental health. But did you know that there is a strong connection between heart disease and depression? And, of course, the pause that nature gives us in our busy lives is helpful for stress, which again, affects our hearts. In fact, a study was done showing that people living in less leafy areas were more likely to die from heart problems.
It’s not surprising that our hearts, our brains, and nature all work together in a supportive way. We, ourselves, are a part of nature after all.
2. Our brains:
Okay, we already know about nature boosting our mental health. But there’s more. Here’s the physiological low-down:
When we view nature, it’s literally a physically pleasurable activity, meaning our pleasure receptors are activated. Conversely, when we are viewing concrete buildings, busy roadways, or screens at work, our brains release cortisol, the stress hormone. More nature equals less of what’s deemed “toxic stress,” which impacts so many things including our learning and memory, executive function, and attention span—and nature can especially improve our brain development at an early age.
3. Our life span:
With all of the physical benefits of getting more nature into our lives—affecting not just our hearts and brains, but other conditions like diabetes, allergies, and prostate cancer, as well as the quality of our sleep—it’s clear, then, that our overall mortality would be affected. Science proves it: if you want to live well into your old age, adding more daily nature will help you get there.
Okay, so now you’re convinced. Good. But life’s busy…how do we get more nature into our lives every single day? Well, we don’t have to plan big things. It can sometimes be as simple as standing outside on our doorstep, taking some big breaths, and looking at the sky.
Here are a few easy ways that I incorporate it into my life:
1. Go on a walk to find the biggest, best pinecone you’ve ever seen.
2. Dust the leaves of your indoor plants.
3. Feed the birds. Corvids love peanuts and geese love watermelon. Black oil sunflower seeds for chickadees. (But be careful—if avian flu is circulating like it is here in Alberta right now, wait until it’s not. We don’t want to be the cause of spreading it.)
4. Watch a sunset somewhere a building won’t impede your view.
5. Find some moving water and get your feet in it. (Carefully! If you’re in the north, some rivers are moving fast and deep with ice melt, and it can still be dangerous, even in May. Opt for a small creek if you have one nearby. Standing water is fine too, if that’s all there is!)
6. Step outside and watch the clouds until you can identify a form within them.
7. Storming outside? Put out some jars to collect rainwater for your indoor plants.
8. Find a well-trod hiking spot and then get off the trail a little. Sit on a mossy log. Look for mushrooms. Watch the bugs. Find a walking stick.
9. Stargaze. Can you name the constellations? In my location, northern Canada, I can always find Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (the dippers), Lyra (which includes the second brightest star in the northern sky, Vega), and Cygnus (the cross).
10. Cut some lilacs for a jar on your kitchen table. Smell them often.
11. Plant something—even if you’re in an apartment. Microgreens on a windowsill! Beautiful, cute, and edible.
12. Lay in the grass (best if you can find a place where they don’t spray pesticides or weed killer).
13. Collect materials for smoke cleansing. Avoid white sage unless you are well-versed in how to respectfully and sustainably harvest. Yarrow, sweetgrass, regular garden sage, lavender, rosemary, pine, cedar, juniper, catnip, mint, and calendula are all really good, sustainable options.
14. Go on a photo hunt for cool-looking nature things to post on your socials.
15. Get creative: make a nature mandala somewhere unexpected.
16. Is it windy outside? Go outside and let the air dust you off, body and soul.
17. Set up some dedicated sun time. Put on your sunscreen! Next, make yourself a coffee or tea, iced or hot (this would actually be a great time to brew up a jar of sun tea). And then get outside and sit where the sun can shine on your face. Close your eyes, feel the warmth, and watch the patterns on the inside of your eyelids.
18. Gather some fallen leaves to press and make into bookmarks.
19. Get out of your rut and walk somewhere brand new, outside your normal neighborhood. Pay attention to the plants and trees along the way.
20. Sit under a tree, on a blanket, with snacks, water, a pen, and your journal and just watch the world go by. Write down whatever pops into your mind.