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Head Out

Are you staying in this weekend? Consider making time to get outdoors. Studies show that getting outside is clinically proven to keep your mind healthy and relaxed.

Rob Harmon
March 28, 2019

Imagine a treatment that is readily available to people of all walks of life with no side-effects that can reduce depression, stress, anxiety, spur on weight loss and is easily replicated across cultures. There’s growing empirical evidence that suggests walks in nature may just be the miracle drug we’ve all been waiting for. Living close to green spaces has been proven to provide the type of treatment for what ails us time and time again.

Tulsa is on the cutting edge of this type of thinking — with the addition of the Gathering Place to go along with so many other beautiful parks, including the Mary K. Oxley Nature Center in Mohawk Park, as well as the Tulsa Botanic Garden in North Tulsa. Visiting these beautiful spaces in our beloved Green Country may have more benefits than we realize. Here are just a few.

A nice nature walk can improve short-term memory
More than a few studies through the years have shown that a good nature walk has memory-improving effects, while walking on the treadmill in the local gym does not. A University of Michigan trial divided students into two groups. After a brief memory test, one set of participants walked down a city street. The other group ambled through a nearby arboretum. When the participants returned to take the test again, those who had taken the city route did not improve in their results. However, the people who had enjoyed a nature walk had improved their memory results by 20 percent. Amazing!

Outdoor time reduces inflammation
Some of us have chronically creaky joints and inflammation, making it painful to get around. It may seem that no form of arthritis treatment makes a difference. Sadly, inflammation can be associated with autoimmune disorders, depression, cancer and more.

Fortunately, spending time outdoors is likely to reduce inflammation and creaky joints, naturally and pretty darn quick too. A study of senior citizens who were sent on a weeklong trip into a forest produced significant signs of inflammation reduction. Other studies have confirmed these results, and have even shown that blood pressure can also be reduced at the same time.

Outdoor rejuvenation equals fatigue elimination
Just ask anybody on a Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning, when not even a spinner or any other fidget toy can help with focus, if brain fatigue really is a thing. We may have a hard time getting our minds in gear at the office, but studies have found that even just looking at pictures of nature can provide the kind of mental boosts we all need from time to time to overcome the doldrums associated with brain fatigue. It goes without saying that your brain will function even better by seeing nature up close and in person.

The more time outside, the lower the blood pressure
Maybe it goes without saying, but with all this walking around in the woods, you’re bound to lower your blood pressure. Yes, again, studies show it’s true. An eight-year-long Japanese study a few years back showed that spending time in nature reduces blood pressure, citing the calming effects of a world devoid of city stresses and work responsibilities. Makes sense to us. Plus, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature, while walking on trails, you forget you’re exercising and giving your heart a little extra healthy work.

Time outdoors de-stresses your life
Forest therapy is being used more often as a form of de-stressing. Of course, they’ve done a study on that too. Compared to participants who stayed in town, students who spent two nights in the woods, according to one study, ended up having lower levels of the hormone cortisol, which is an indicator for stress. Sustained high levels of cortisol lead to weight gain, thinning skin, acne and muscle weakness. Having fun and relaxing in the outdoors can be just the thing to lower your cortisol levels.

People concentrate better after a time outdoors
For some of us, the older we get, the harder it is sometimes to maintain the level of attention we were able to pay in our younger years, but how to get that focus back is the question. For others, ADHD has been our biggest obstacle and medicine hasn’t always helped. By now, you know what we’re going to say. Yes, time outdoors can increase your ability to focus in the real world. In one reading retention study conducted, those who came back from spending a little rest and relaxation in nature scored higher than those who were sent to hang out in the city. So, maybe enough time in the great outdoors can be effective for those of us who have trouble focusing.

Battle depression and anxiety with outdoor fun
Going green by spending time in nature combats anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, especially when that’s combined with exercise. Decreased levels of anxiety, moodiness, and other negative outlooks on life have been found when outdoor walks are present, according to a recent study. Nature walks are even a prescribed treatment by some mental health professionals as a supplement to other forms to treatment. Whether it is a walk among trees or along a natural body of water, outdoor fun creates a positive mindset for those battling depression that can’t be achieved otherwise.

Forests can increase your immune system’s function
Researchers admit that more studies need to be done to better understand the relationship, but studies suggest that time outdoors boosts our health. Too much time indoors robs us of the natural health benefits we need in order to stay healthy and free from common illnesses like colds, flus and other infections. A good, healthy dose of nature gives our bodies the opportunity to build immunity toward strands of airborne bacteria floating around, as well as other infectious organisms we couldn’t become immune to otherwise.