The Health Benefits of Spending Time in Nature
Walking Tracks are provided in six sections of Tamborine National Park
Our guests at Witches Falls Cottages describe feeling amazing after their stay on Tamborine Mountain, and often tell us that they had a wonderful day – of doing nothing at all! However, the good mountain vibes come from more than the act of taking a holiday. Did you know that spending time out in nature may provide health benefits of its own? Let’s take a look at why, in a way, there’s real magic in the air at Witches Falls.
Mood-Boosting Benefits of Nature
Forests, waterfalls and the sea all release significant amounts of negative ions, which are charged molecules. Moving air and water breaks up the molecules in the air, making them charged.
These negative ions increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, resulting in heightened alertness and metal energy, according to Dr Pierce J. Howard, author of The Owner’s Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind Brain Research.
One in three of us are particularly sensitive to their effects. You may be that one if you feel rubbish inside an air-conditioned room but are instantly refreshed by stepping outside. You could also be more sensitive if you do not feel like you’ve had a holiday after a long weekend in the city but need time in nature – such as at Witches Falls! – to recharge.
Vitamin W (Waterfall)
Study after study has shown that air pollution contributes to a wide range of chronic health issues, so taking a break if you live in a densely populated area has benefits in itself. While pollution is harmful partly due to oxidative stress (this causes tissue damage; the most visible type of oxidative stress is sunburn) , negative ions may stimulate the body to produce its own antioxidants. We think of antioxidants as being found in fruits and vegetables, such as vitamin C, but our bodies also produce their own antioxidants, which are meant to work together with those that we eat.
In Theory, and in Practice
Spending time in nature has been used for decades in Japan to boost health, where it is known as shinrin-yoku (forest bathing). Its long-standing popularity among Japan’s holistically minded has led to research on whether real humans benefit from exposure to real-life forests (as opposed to lab research on ions or cells).
A series of field experiments from 2010 involved a total of 280 healthy young men across 24 forests in Japan, where they took turns walking in and viewing both forest and city environments. Before breakfast, and before and after both the walking and viewing of each location, researchers measured their blood pressure, heart rate variability, pulse and salivary cortisol. Cortisol is the major “stress hormone”.
Compared to urban areas, spending time in the forest resulted in lower cortisol, blood pressure and pulse rate, while improving heart function. Additionally, the part of our nervous systems responsible for digestion and tissue repair started to function better, as the “fight or flight” systems needed less attention. The men participating in forest bathing also showed improvements in mood scores. Anxiety, depression, fear, anger and confusion scores all significantly fell, while vigour rose. Exposure to city environments, however, worsened these scores. Is it any wonder why Japan has one of the highest life expectancies in the world?
On the other side of the world, in Scotland, the regional health board of Shetland recently authorised GPs to prescribe nature! Patients with diabetes, heart conditions, mental health issues, and other complaints may get a seasonal list (PDF) of suggestions for interacting with nature at their next visit, ranging from planting flower bulbs to camping or geocaching (an adult version of treasure hunting).
To conclude, the health benefits of swapping skyscrapers and traffic jams for forests and waterfalls are some very important reasons why we find running Witches Falls Cottages so rewarding. We love seeing our guests enjoy Tamborine Mountain and leave feeling much better than when they arrived.