Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Great Outdoors for Your Health

It will not surprise you to hear that we’re seeing more patients lately struggling with mood, sleep, attention, and clarity of thought.  There are a lot of factors that can contribute to symptoms in these areas including diet, sleep, toxicity, lack of exercise, and hormonal imbalances to name a few.  What I am most interested in right now is how much time we spend outside in nature.

We hear a lot in the media about the effect of video games on children.  We hear parents talk about limiting screen time (time in front of computers, televisions, etc) for their children who struggle with ADHD.  There’s plenty of evidence suggesting that more time in front of electronic screens is not helping our health, our brains, or our mood.  What we don’t hear as much about is time in nature.  There is, however, a growing body of research suggesting that the more time we spend out in the natural world, the more focused we are and the more balanced our mood tends to be.  One study in particular had people take either a walk through the city or a walk through a forest.  On a before and after attention test, the forest group scored higher after their walk, but the city group scored worse.

We live in a world of over-stimulation.  There is constant input into our brains from electronics, busy streets, and closely packed buildings.  Our brains need a break.  While we often think that turning on the TV gives a break, because it allows us to check out, what research suggests is that it is really just more information for your brain to process.  Taking a walk outside where there are trees and other plants can have a profound effect on mood, attention, motivation, and clarity of thought.  This seems to be true even if it’s a city park.  So consider, next time you go to turn on the television, or sit down in front of the computer, what might happen instead if you just went outside and found a little green.  Luckily for us, there’s plenty of it in Seattle.  I’m not saying you need to actually hug a tree, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.

– Dr. Erin Westaway, N.D.