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Archive for September, 2013

I really like this quote from Timothy Beatley, Few elixirs have the power and punch to heal, restore, and rejuvenate the way that nature can. It is not surprising that, as a leading advocate for the “greening” of our cities, he sees exposure to nature as essential for optimal health and well-being.

Environmental-Wellness

He is not alone in his view. According to Jules Pretty and his colleagues at the University of Exeter, a healthy pathway through life takes in plenty of nature.

The scientific evidence makes clear that connecting with nature should be as much part of a healthy lifestyle as eating sensibly, getting enough exercise, reducing stress, having close personal relationships and avoiding environmental hazards. Edward O. Wilson (of biophilia fame)is so convinced of this that he says we require daily contact with nature if we are to be healthy and productive individuals.

The days of thinking that being healthy simply means not having an illness or injury are long gone. Today the accepted view of health is the one recommended by the World Health Organisation – complete physical, mental and social well-being and not just being free of disease. To be healthy in this broader sense is as much about our mental and emotional life – our moods, self-esteem, feelings of belonging, sense of identity and stress levels, for example – as it is about what is going on in our bodies.

So to be “really well” is to feel that our minds and bodies are enabling us to be the persons we want to be, doing the things we find meaningful and fulfilling. It is to be enjoying what Halbert Dunn called “high-level wellness” or “wellness” for short. Dunn adopted this term to emphasise that health is more than a here-and-now state; it is equally about living “healthily” and to our full potential.

Living “healthily” or in the “wellness way” involves all aspects of our lives – emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual and occupational as well as physical. It requires us to take personal responsibilitywellness for pursuing optimal well-being in all of these areas. This is quite a responsibility but discharging it is made easier because there are widely accepted guidelines to follow.

As I gathered material for Claim Your Wildness, I was amazed to discover just how many wellness guidelines are served by activities that connect us with nature. When I join a small group of friends on our monthly bushwalk, for example, I am applying several of the principles without having to think about it. Here are some that this simple activity covers:

  • exercising010
  • adopting strategies for avoiding and ameliorating stress
  • developing mutually satisfying relationships with friends
  • avoiding sensory overload and attention fatigue
  • using our senses for pleasure
  • seeking mental stimulation

I’ll explain in following posts why a walk and other activities in nature are able to serve our wellness needs so comprehensively.

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From blog to book

I suspect that people who read my blog are interested in the role that nature can play in their physical, mental and social well-being because they are intuitively aware that nature is good for them.

If this sounds like you, the book, Claim Your Wildness: And Let Nature Nurture Your Health and Well-being might be right up your alley.CYW_Cover_final

The book blends science, personal observation and experience to explain

  • why we need to have regular contact with nature,
  • what nature can contribute to our health, well-being and quality of life, and
  • how everyone can enjoy the gifts that nature offers.

The book says that our need of nature arises from the instinctive attraction we all feel towards animals, plants and the natural world generally. This attraction exists because we are still creatures of the wild as far as our brains are concerned. But only the beginnings of the attraction are built into our brains. For the attraction to become a rich and beneficial relationship, we need to nurture it by having regular contact with nature. Seeking and benefiting from such contact is what it means to claim your wildness.

You can find out more about the book, sample it and purchase a Kindle version of it by clicking here.

The book will be available from other digital retailers very shortly.

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When I am camping I sleep well. I feel sleepy earlier than I normally do and I wake earlier and brighter than is usual for me. An obvious explanation is that the exertion of backpacking and setting up camp makes me tired and ready for a good night’s sleep. But there is another reason.

You can see in this photo of a campfire that the light falling on the eyes of the eyes of the campers is at the red-orange end of the spectrum.

ab The first campfire

That light triggers cells in the back of their eyes to tell their brains it is time to increase the output of a hormone called melatonin. Increased melatonin causes us to feel sleepy. Bright morning light on the other hand decreases melatonin levels and enables us to wake from sleep feeling bright and alert. This cycling between lower melatonin levels – wakefulness – and higher levels – sleepiness – is called the circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm is critically important to our health not only because its effects on sleeping but also because it affects the immune system, appetite and hunger regulation, temperature and blood pressure and mental efficiency.

The key to having a healthy circadian normal rhythm is exposure to changing natural light. Our brains are adapted to the intensity and daily variations of natural light. During the day, natural light is brighter and “bluer” for the first half but becomes less bright and “redder” as sunset approaches. When we are exposed to these natural light conditions our circadian rhythm and the daily light-dark cycle fall into line. We awake refreshed and alert soon after sunrise and find ourselves looking forward to sleep once the sun has set.

In our modern lifestyle, the match between natural light conditions and our circadian rhythm is often disrupted. Many of us work all day in artificial light. Almost all of us experience light well beyond sunset. Using Ipads and other appliances with back-lit screens at night is especially disruptive as these deliver blue rather than red spectrum light.

One major effect of artificial lighting is to create a lag between the natural light-dark cycle and our circadian rhythm. A recent study has demonstrated, however, that this lag disappears within a week if people experience only natural light and then only the light from a campfire at night.

Other ways of claiming the benefits of natural lighting include:

  •  taking a short walk in the early morning sunlight
  •  using your  “sunnies” sparingly in the morning
  •  having a “sunshine break” during the day (particularly important if you spend the day in artificial lighting and also for maintaining your production of vitamin D)
  •  softening domestic lighting in the hour before bedtime
  •  avoiding using back-lit appliances leading up to bedtime

I doubt that Seneca the famous Roman philosopher and statesman would have imagined this application of his suggestion that “We should all live according to nature”.

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