Prescribing Nature? Why Some Experts Say That Nature Is the Key to Staying Healthy

Everyone loves vacation. Some families prefer tropical getaways and others adore the Rocky Mountains. My favorite memory is a time our family visited the Amazon rainforest, swimming in a cove with lush plants and waterfalls. These trips all have something in common: beautiful nature.

What Are the Health Benefits of Nature?

The effects of nature are so positive that doctors are starting to write prescriptions for ecotherapy, or nature trips:

  • Fighting stress and depression: One of the biggest benefits of being in nature is that it improves your mood. Stress, anxiety and depression practically disappear. You feel relaxed, positive and energized.
  • Increasing your sense of wellbeing: Studies show that people who spend time in nature are more likely to feel deep satisfaction, meaning and joy in life.
  • Protecting your body: People who spend time outdoors every week have a lower risk of heart disease, respiratory problems, diabetes and overweight.
  • Strengthening your immune system: An excursion into the woods or a weekend at a national park can boost the effectiveness of your immune system, helping you stay healthier.
  • Relieving pain: When you get plenty of sunlight, it can trigger pain relief for your entire body. In fact, these rays may even increase healing, curing cuts and some injuries more quickly.

You don’t need to go it alone to improve your health. An enjoyable outing with friends or family members can actually increase the mental, physical and emotional benefits you receive.


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Why Is Nature So Good for You?

Think back to the last time you visited a park, beach or forest. First, imagine the sights. Do you see gorgeous fields of wildflowers, colorful hummingbirds or majestic mountains?

The reason beautiful vistas are calming is because they interrupt the negative thoughts that stress makes you replay over and over in your mind. Nature captures your attention and gets you to focus on something positive, interesting and wonderful instead.

Now, remember the scents. Do you smell a salty ocean breeze, fresh green plants, delightful roses or irresistible cedar?

These aromas do more than tempt your nose. They contain natural aerosols, tiny bits of essential plant oils, that can trigger certain hormones in your body. That’s one reason why pine forests are so calming.

What about the sounds? Can you remember the chirping of birds, the gentle rustling of leaves or the smooth crashing of waves at the ocean?

Nature sounds are proven to have a soothing effect on your brain, making you feel relaxed and helping you sleep better at night. Even the absence of sound is enjoyable, that total peace and quiet you only find in nature. 


Where Can You Go?

Going outdoors doesn’t have to be complicated. The important thing, according to studies, is to get at least two hours of ecotherapy every week. The two hours can be split into 20 minutes every day or a full morning on the weekend.

Go for a walk in the park or plan a bonfire with friends in the country. National parks are the purest form of nature, but not everyone lives close enough to go regularly. If you have woods near your house, enjoy a hike through nature trails. Take a trip to the beach or the lake.

Get as far away from the noise pollution and air pollution of the big city as possible. You can even get benefits by working in your garden or watching hummingbirds on your patio. Don’t plan too much — just do it!

Do you have a favorite nature getaway you want to share? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Why a Consistent Sleep Schedule Is Crucial for Good Health

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re in bed, curled up with a good book by 10:15 one night. The following night, you’re up past midnight playing board games with the family or watching “just one more” episode of your favorite Netflix drama. The next night, you start dozing on the couch at 8:30 but don’t actually crawl into bed until 11:30. Whoops.

If your sleep schedule is a bit of a mess these days, it’s time to get things back on track. Consistent and plentiful sleep is fundamental to your wellbeing, and it may be easier to achieve than you think.

How a Regular Bedtime Can Improve Your Health

Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same times each day is vital to your cardiovascular health. In fact, if your bedtime varies significantly from one night to the next, you may be doubling your risk of heart disease. That’s what a recent study from Harvard found when researchers observed the sleep schedules of over 2,000 men and women for six years.

Inconsistent sleep — both in terms of when you go to bed and how many hours of good sleep you get — can also increase your chance of suffering a heart attack and increase your odds of developing metabolic syndrome, an unsavory pack of health problems that boost your body’s likelihood of cardiovascular disease.

Maintaining a regular sleep schedule decreases your chance of developing some of aging’s other heavy hitters as well, including:

  • High blood pressure

  • Obesity

  • Diabetes

  • Stroke


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How To Clean Up Your Sleep Schedule

When you’re ready to commit to better sleep, the good news is that there are plenty of ways to do so.

Keep Cool

A cooler bedroom is conducive to quality snoozing. The lower your body temperature, the faster you’ll reach REM sleep, which is the restorative slumber that helps your body recover from a long day. Studies show that the ideal overnight temperature for your bedroom is between 60- and 67-degrees Fahrenheit.

If you can squeeze a warm bath in before bed, too, go for it. While it seems counterintuitive, the warm water actually lowers your body temperature by increasing your circulation.

Banish Blue Light From the Bedroom

If you’re scrolling through your phone or tablet right before bed, you’re not doing your shuteye any favors. For starters, reading the news or work emails will do little to quiet your mind before rest. What’s more, these devices emit blue light that negatively affects sleep quality.

To cement your commitment to excellent sleep, refrain from using screens in the hour leading up to lights out. If you want to read, opt for an e-reader that doesn’t give off blue light or cozy up to a good old-fashioned book.

Avoid Alcohol

Contrary to what your friends claim, a glass of wine or two before bed is not a sleep aid. Beer, wine and spirits before bed may make you drowsy, but they also disrupt your circadian rhythm and diminish melatonin production, both of which lead to sub-par sack time. In fact, drinking in general isn’t great for your sleep.

That doesn’t mean you have to swear off Chardonnay forever, but you should imbibe intelligently. Drinking two or three times a week is fine for most, and the earlier in the evening that you can switch to water or tea, the better. In addition to more restorative sleep, you can also look forward to feeling more energetic and mentally sharp the following day.

Setting yourself up for a successful night of sleep takes discipline, but the health benefits you’ll reap are enormous. Don’t think of sticking to your sleep schedule as an obligation; think of it as a way to pamper yourself. Before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to retreating to your cozy sanctuary, even on the weekends.

Combat Back Pain Symptoms With the Valsalva Maneuver

How often does back pain bring down your day? If you struggle with chronic back pain, stiffness and discomfort, you're far from alone. In fact, this is the most common cause of disability for American adults.

If you're looking for natural relief, you've probably explored supplements, stretching and support pillows, but have you heard of the Valsalva maneuver? This breathing method has been used to enhance relaxation since ancient times, when it was invented to address middle ear infection.

What Is the Valsalva Maneuver?

When you experience pain, your autonomous nervous system causes changes in your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. With the Valsalva maneuver, you can use your breathing to affect these biometrics and bring yourself back into a relaxed state.

Each part of the Valsalva maneuver triggers specific responses in the body. These steps force the blood pressure to quickly rise by forcing blood to circulate. After this spike, the blood slowly flows back from the organs, allowing you to enter a relaxed state as blood pressure returns to normal before dropping for a few moments. At the end of the Valsalva, your blood pressure will rebound again into a normal range.

How Do I Do It?

A successful Valsalva maneuver requires these simple steps:

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. 

  • Take a deep breath and hold it in. 

  • Hold your nose like you're about to jump off the high dive.

  • Keep your mouth closed.

  • Pretend you are blowing up a balloon as you attempt to exhale without opening your nose or mouth.

  • Pretend that you have to go "number two" and bear down just as you would in the ladies' room.

Hold these actions for 10 to 15 seconds before releasing. Try the Valsalva whenever your back pain causes a spike in heart rate. Most people report relief of this pain-related symptom within about 20 minutes.


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Why Does It Work?

While we need more research to truly understand the applications of the Valsalva technique for pain relief, clinical studies support this use of the maneuver. Most current research focuses on pain alleviation during spinal tap and other invasive low-back procedures.

Scientists suspect that Valsalva helps tone the vagus nerve, the main information superhighway in our nervous system. Strengthening the vagus by performing this breathing technique may promote optimal digestion, breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and even speech.

You can also take a cue from weight lifters and use the Valsalva maneuver during your workouts. If you lift weights, this trick can help stabilize your core during bench presses, deadlifts, squats and other exercises.

Doctors also use the Valsalva method to diagnose certain cardiac problems. They may recommend this technique for patients who experience a rapid heart rate (tachycardia).

Is It Safe?

Most people can safely perform the Valsalva maneuver. However, ask your doctor first if you have a history of heart health problems, such as high blood pressure or stroke. You should also avoid Valsalva if you have retinopathy or other issues with eye pressure. The first time you do this technique, a health care provider can ensure that you're performing the actions correctly; otherwise, it won't work as expected.

Side effects rarely occur with this maneuver. Some people briefly lose consciousness or feel lightheaded. If the Valsalva maneuver doesn't fix a speeding heartbeat, go to the emergency room if you also have weakness, fainting, lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, or pain in your arm, chest, back, neck or shoulders.

If you frequently experience uncomfortable cardiac symptoms when back pain swells, give the Valsalva a try for relief in those difficult moments. Consider another tool in your arsenal against chronic pain.