Why Connecting to Nature Matters to Your Health
Our affinity toward nature is deeply rooted. We are wired to walk in a grove of trees, sit by a lake, swim, or be invigorated by the smell of pine trees on a summer day. This attachment to nature lifts our moods, lowers our stress levels, and helps heal us. Over 150 million Americans took to outdoor activities last year; running, biking, camping, and fishing. Gardening is the most popular pastime in our country, and it’s easy to assume that with the global pandemic, we’ve spent even more time being active outdoors.
Science has demonstrated in numerous studies that nature heals. If you are ever admitted to the hospital, request a room with a view. You will accelerate your rate of healing by viewing trees and greenery outside. Experiments also demonstrate that spending a day out in nature will improve your creative and problem-solving abilities. Based on the evidence, across continents, employees at big and small companies would be more creative working in a sheltered grove of trees than indoor offices.
Living sustainably is intrinsic to our bodies and minds. Yet, we often need reminders about what’s most primal or basic, especially when we spend so much time on screens, depriving ourselves of real-life connections.
Below are some fundamental things to consider on the path to living more sustainably.
Connect to Nature Through Food
There’s an old saying that “you are what you eat.” This has a ring of truth in new scientific evidence demonstrating the importance of food to our health. Foods high in fat, sugar, and artificial ingredients (preservatives) have a negative impact on our bodies. They are unsustainable. Rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, and all kinds of food allergies are skyrocketing. Many laboratories work full time to simulate tastes through chemicals that fool us into buying foods that “taste great” but are bad for the environment and us.
The most beneficial community to your health is one you might not know about; it’s the “gut flora community.” It was formed in your stomach within one to two years of birth, transferred to you by your mother and the environment. The healthier the gut flora community, the better off you are. It’s that simple.
Foods that promote healthy gut flora include those that are fermented, such as kimchi, kefir, kombucha, natural yogurts, and fermented soya bean milk; and diets rich in high fiber such as apples, blueberries, chickpeas, lentils, and beans; and plant foods like almonds, broccoli, green tea, cocoa, and red wine. These are linked to changes in gut flora that reduce inflammation and triglyceride levels and are part of a healthy heart diet.
On the other hand, certain foods are damaging both for you and the environment. For example, farmed salmon ingest coloring agents and chemicals to make the meat appear more colorful and are given high doses of antibiotics that keep penned salmon from getting the disease. These chemicals show up in your bloodstream.
Don’t fall for the label on the package that reads “naturally raised.” It’s best to ask for or shop for line-caught, wild salmon. Whatever you ingest over time affects you in some way, and the more natural the process and outcome, the greater the likelihood of health effects; no additives are good for you in the long run.
Protect Your Skin
The skin is the largest organ of the human body. It’s among the earliest organs to form. It interfaces with the world at large, keeping our organs intact, helping us regulate our body temperature and moisture.
Research in environmental science and pollution indicates that prolonged skin contact with traditionally manufactured textiles (your clothes) can lead to chemical contaminants, including carcinogenic compounds, penetrating through the skin, and further entering the human body, entailing potential health risks.
For example, cotton, grown traditionally, is an environmental nightmare and health hazard: it uses extremely high levels of water, pesticides, and fertilizers. Pesticides negatively affect farmers and field workers, and fertilizer runoff pollutes the earth, major waterways, and oceans.
To limit exposure to chemical contaminants from some cotton clothing, look for labels that read 100% certified organic cotton, or better yet, make sure the labels state low water use and/or low or no pesticides. Certified organic is important because some garments labeled “organic” are made from blending traditionally grown cotton — environmentally damaging — with organic cotton, which also artificially lowers prices on these garments and makes it harder for sustainable brands to compete.
It may not be possible for everything in your closet to be sustainably made at the highest standards, but incorporating more organics over time is a smart choice for you and the Earth, and you can begin exploring them in our women’s, men’s, and kids’ collections.
Organic, natural ingredients are also important in your personal and home care products, for the same reasons that limiting chemicals in your clothing are. Ultimately, chemicals that transfer through the skin should be avoided. Fortunately, there are lots of alternatives in health & beauty and home products to explore.
Move for Life
Sedentary lifestyles are unsustainable. Physical inactivity increases all causes of mortality, doubles the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and significantly increases the risk of colon cancer and high blood pressure — not to mention depression and anxiety.
Sitting for long hours each day with little or no exercise directly affects your long-term health. Physical exercise or movement, in other words, has a profoundly positive effect on your longevity.
There are many activities that you can undertake that become part of your daily life. Try any mixture of these: walk to the supermarket or any daily destination. Walking at a brisk pace is heart-healthy. Take in the scenery and say hello to new friends or neighbors. Ride a bike to work or to run an errand. Take the stairs whenever you can. Start counting your steps and set simple goals for yourself. And switching to human-powered transportation reduces your carbon footprint.
If you have kids, make sure they are active too. While they may prefer to stay glued to their screens, you can help enhance their lives — psychologically and physically — by modeling active behavior. Once they start, they will be more relaxed for a few minutes per day, better able to focus, and more likely to engage with you.
What is clear from all the research on living a sustainable lifestyle is that it’s healthy for you and the earth, and it’s one of the most natural things we can do as human beings.