What? You haven’t heard about vitamin N? Well then let me explain the importance of this nutrient that is vital for your mental, physical, and spiritual health.
I have been teaching my clients for many years the importance of communing with nature (vitamin N) to support the healing process based on my gut instinct and personal experience. But, now science is beginning to demonstrate there is concrete evidence that spending time with the elements is truly good for our health all around.
A growing body of research indicates that by spending more time in nature we can significantly decrease stress, tension, and sympathetic nervous system activity; encourage relaxation; lower blood pressure and heart rate’; decrease depression, anxiety, ADHD, and the need for pain medication; promote faster healing time; assist in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction; aid in coping with trauma and disability; improve self-esteem and self-discipline; increase anticancer protein expression and natural killer cells; and foster more inner peace, joy, feelings of well-being, compassion, and transcendental connectedness.
In one study, just twenty minutes of looking at a forest lowered cortisol levels an average of 13.4 percent. When the subjects went into the forest for a three-day trip, they experienced a 50 percent increase in the activity of their natural killer cells as well as an increase in the actual number of natural killer cells. Another study found that touching metal provoked a stress response in the brain, but touching a leaf produced a calming effect.
Psychologists Frances Kuo and Andrea Taylor “found that children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, or ADHD, experienced a significant reduction in symptoms after they participated in activities in green settings.” It didn’t matter what the activity was, be it playing a sport or simply sitting in the environment the degree of improvement in ADHD symptoms was linked to the “greenness of the setting in which it took place.”
Another study found that inner-city girls who simply had a green view from the window in their home owned appreciably higher levels of self-discipline than girls without a view. The greener her view the less impulsively she acts, the greater her capacity to delay gratification, and the better her concentration.
And yet other researchers discovered that residents who have trees and other greenery outside their homes experience an abundance of benefits like less crime, a greater capacity to cope with the demands of life, less aggression and violence among partners, and experience a deeper sense of community.
Journalist and author Richard Louv has written about our disconnect from nature three times. In his first book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, he chronicles the profound consequences of being cut off from nature on our children. In 2011, he followed up with The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder which focuses on the importance of nature for adults and his third book Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life, is aimed at the whole family and our communities. If you want to gain a better understanding of this issue, these books are a good place to start.
Spending time with nature is so effective that many health care practitioners, including medical doctors, now prescribe it as part of the treatment plan for a wide variety of health conditions. Some health professionals even partner with park professionals to make it happen.
The human species evolved living in the great outdoors, so from an evolutionary standpoint, we are hardwired to spend time with nature. It is in our genes. From birth to death, the lives of our early ancestors took place in the wild. They bathed in streams, took shelter near rocks, climbed trees, swung on vines, chased down their dinner, got warmth by basking in the sun, ate meals outdoors, and procreated under the stars.
Although modern civilization has enhanced our lives in many ways, it has also ripped us away from our primal roots and increased our stress level tenfold, which is one of the primary causes of the decline in mental and physical health that plagues our society. As would any animal that is removed from its natural habitat, we experience negative consequences that can have a profound impact on emotional and physical well-being.
Nature is not something that is separate from us; it is part of us and we are part of it. We emerged from the natural world. Simply returning to our native environment to regularly commune with Mother Nature can help counteract some of the side effects of modern living and nourish us back to health. It is an innate need that should not be ignored.
This is a great way to put mindfulness into action as well; be completely aware of and one with the breeze or the sun against your skin, the sound of your footsteps against the earth, the song of a bird or chirp of the crickets. Tune everything else out and be completely absorbed in the nature moment. Take a look here for more ideas on how to commune more frequently.
Regardless of which health condition you may be dealing with or even if you are in good health and want to remain that way, spending a little time with the elements on a consistent basis should be a fundamental component of your health care plan. So, go on and get outside as often as you can. Research suggests that this nutrient may be just as important as vitamins A, B, C, D, & E. However, unlike other vitamins, you can never get too much vitamin N.
Rob Kanter. “Trees, Green Space, and Human Well-being.” Environmental Almanac radio show. Thursday, July 7, 2005
Bum Jin Park, et al. “The Physiological Effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the Forest Atmosphere or Forest Bathing): Evidence from Field Experiments in 24 Forests across Japan.” Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine 15.1 (2010)
Richard Louv. “Health Benefits of Being Outdoors.”AARP Bulletin, July 23, 2012.
Andrew Weil. “Is Forest Therapy for Real.” Q & A Library.
Koga Kazuko, and Yutaka Iwasaki. “Psychological and Physiological Effect in Humans of Touching Plant Foliage – Using the Semantic Differential Method and Cerebral Activity as Indicators.” Journal of Physiological Anthropology 32.1 (2013)