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Get Out Into The "Ah"

Updated: Apr 25

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks."

John Muir, Scottish born American naturalist

This morning a grumpy and somewhat sad woman hijacked my mind and body. Who knows why? She does this sometimes. We are on quite intimate terms.

I realized what was going on when I noticed the brown pervasive mood covering the world. When I listened in to what this moody woman was saying about everything – a whole litany of things she detested including my pastel-colored shirts (who knew?), I realized I had to do something.

Grievances were aired without judgment.  I consoled June, gave her some time and space, a little TLC, then I was ready to wrest back control of myself. I felt sure of the best strategy.  Get outside.  Into the "Ah."

Even better go for a walk outside.  Best of all – get outside, go for a walk…with somebody I enjoyed. Ah. Ah. Ah. Triple whammy.

John agreed to set his sprinkler prep and yard work on the back burner and accompany me.  Normally, I would prefer a little hike up what we call Reflector Hill, but I’m building some strength back after an injury in one of my legs. So, we went downtown to walk.

For going on about thirty years, the little (a bit over 3K population I believe) city of Cashmere has been awarded the designation of Tree City USA.  The award goes to cities that show “an ongoing commitment to planning and caring for trees in the city.”  Initially the idea of getting involved in this tree city business was sold to citizens as a way to increase property values, improve air quality, protect folks from summer heat and buffer them from the wind, make the city more attractive and even provide a bit of wildlife habitat.

Although the city itself is only a little over a square mile, the tranquil tone flows over into the outlying areas…to my sensibilities anyway. We walk on the banks of the scenic Wenatchee River and look up at Mount Cashmere.

I feel like I’m getting close to nature when I walk downtown in this little Tree City.  My body honestly does seem to murmur an internal "Ah." And we have the added plus of running into folks around town. When we had finished walking, John asked me how I was feeling.  I checked in with myself.  Yes, indeed, I was feeling quite good.  He said he was feeling good as well.

There’s solid research about the benefits of moving the body, of talking with friends and even strangers which I have shared before, but what I really wanted this morning more than anything was to get OUTSIDE. I could feel the desperate need deep down in my bones. 

About ten years ago, a researcher I know in England (Dr. Jeremy Dean) compiled a summary of ten of the remarkable ways nature can heal your mind. And he warned even then that people were spending 25% less time outside than they did twenty years ago.  He says it’s getting worse every year. What are we doing?  Playing on our phones, surfing the internet sort of stuff.

Dean says it is such a pity because hanging around inside the house gives us a dead, flat feeling. Nature is fuel for the soul.  It makes us feel happier, healthier, and energetic.

Then he added this:

“Research has shown that people with a greater sense of vitality don’t just have more energy for things they want to do, they are also more resilient to physical illnesses.

One of the pathways to health may be to spend more time in natural settings.”

Being in nature for more lengthy periods, like for a week, makes us much more creative, like 50% more.

“…four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multimedia and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50 percent..."

Why does it work? The psychologists explained:

“Our modern society is filled with sudden events (sirens, horns, ringing phones, alarms, television, etc.) that hijack attention.

By contrast, natural environments are associated with gentle, soft fascination, allowing the executive attentional system to replenish.” 

And by now most have heard of the practice the Japanese call forest bathing, shinrin-yoku. It’s what they do to reduce their stress. The Japanese researchers claim that their studies of shinrin-yoku showed that hostility and depression were significantly reduced.

Along the lines of reducing stress, have you noticed the gardens going into care homes?  Studies have found therapeutic benefits for those suffering from dementia, according to a review of 17 separate studies.  The gardens promote relaxation and reduce agitation.

“There is an increasing interest in improving dementia symptoms without the use of drugs.

We think that gardens could be benefiting dementia sufferers by providing them with sensory stimulation and an environment that triggers memories.

They not only present an opportunity to relax in a calming setting, but also to remember skills and habits that have brought enjoyment in the past.”

And…piggybacking on the dementia and memory theme, researchers claim that short-term memory can be improved 20% by walking in nature…even looking at an image of a natural scene!

Researchers also claim that being outside increases a feeling of belonging in the world and an appreciation of beauty. That’s big in these days of incredible loneliness and alienation.

“This is the first generation that’s significantly plugged in to a different extent and so what does this mean? Modern life has created a distance between humans and nature that now we’re realizing isn’t good in a whole host of ways.

I do feel sorry for people who live in our cities. But researchers say there is hope for those folks too. People can move to greener urban areas. One of my sons who lives in Mercer Island has a fabulous opportunity to walk across the street to the outrageously gorgeous Luther Burbank Park, put the family paddleboard into Lake Washington, or  take the dog for a walk (another good walking partner). 

“We’ve shown that individuals who move to greener areas have significant and long-lasting improvements in mental health. These findings are important for urban planners thinking about introducing new green spaces to our towns and cities, suggesting they could provide long term and sustained benefits for local communities.”

All kinds of exercise in nature can boost your self-esteem. And it’s surprising how little you must do to get the boost.

One review analyzed data from 1,252 people who took part in 10 different studies. The folks were gardening, cycling, boating, fishing, horse-back riding, walking, and running (I'm betting pickleball would count too).  Just 5 minutes of “green exercise” gave large boosts to self-esteem.

Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who play more outside have less severe symptoms, according to research.

Research with 400 children diagnosed with ADHD found that those that who routinely played outside in green settings had better concentration. And they were calmer, more relaxed, and happier.

Tranquil natural scenes, like a seascape, cause vital areas of the brain to work in sync, according to researchers:

“People experience tranquility as a state of calmness and reflection, which is restorative compared with the stressful effects of sustained attention in day-to-day life.

Many of us are getting more understanding of the power of nature to restore and strengthen us. Yahoo. It's compassionate self-care at its best...preventing and alleviating suffering AND promoting flourishing!

And here I must give a big grateful shout out to my tree committee friends who somehow understood the importance of nature years ago (Dr. Ed Meyer, Steve Crossland, and Jan Evans...all I consider friends...and I even think my husband, John, may have jumped in with them on the idea...and perhaps it was my friend, Suzanne MacPherson who was the encouraging mayor at the time...and many of them and their children continue their commitment to the trees even until today) and gave us such a gift I am only now fully appreciating.

How might we journey together to The Good Life by getting outside in nature and experiencing the "Ah"?



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