Have you ever been drawn to nature? Have you had an urge to sit by the sea, hike in the woods or just stand barefoot in the grass while you enjoyed the sun? These unexplainable tendencies could be a natural reflex to help de-stress and reset yourself when the daily stresses of life accumulate over time.
One does not necessarily need a study to tell you that spending time outdoors in fresh air, near a large body of water or in a grassy field in the sun or rain is relaxing. The debate is whether this behavior, however frequent, can be a source of health for humans.
Though the anecdotal evidence is overwhelmingly positive, time near water is not universally calming. In fact, it can be the opposite if you cannot swim or had a near drowning experience as a child. Until recently, the empirical evidence has not supported an improved health connection between exposure to blue spaces (oceans, large bodies of water) or green spaces (nature, grass, woods, mountains, etc).
However, a recent study from the Journal of Environmental Psychology shows a relationship between people who either lived in and near or visited blue or green spaces and better mental and physical health.
There is much more to healthy living than how close you are to nature parks, the wilderness or large bodies of water, so living in one of the world’s “Blue Zones” — places with the most 100-plus-year-old populations — is not the only factor to creating a healthy mind and body or longevity for yourself.
According to Blue Zones research, the top five areas (there are more) of the world that have the most centenarians are Ikaria, Greece; Ogliastra, Sardinia in Italy; Okinawa, Japan; the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California. Though location is nice, it is not the only factor that produces increased longevity in the population.
These other factors can be followed and developed, no matter where you live:
1. Walk and Exercise More
Exercises come in many forms and do not have to look like a barbell and a pull-up bar. Simply walking more, moving more (activities like gardening), outdoor chores and stretching are key to the long lives of the inhabitants of the Blue Zones.
2. Eat Less and Drink in Moderation
Meals are a source of enjoyment in these parts of the world and are largely plant-based with some fish. Portions are smaller, and the beverages are rich in antioxidants, primarily red wines and juices.
3. Social and Physical Activities
Many in these regions walk to socialize and run errands. Staying active and spending time with friends and family is a significant part of the day for people there, from a young age and even more as they age.
People who live longer have developed stress-coping habits to mitigate stressful days and have also found ways to avoid or limit their effects. Stress hormones rushing through our body will eventually catch up to us, even the toughest Type A personalities out there.
Ignoring the patterns of constant high stress with few resources to unwind and relax will not end well. Stress becomes chronic, and eventually deadly, at an earlier than average age.
5. Sleep Better; Set Circadian Rhythms Daily
These people are also early risers and enjoy the morning sunlight. By getting some morning sun with the added benefits of nature, and adding deep breathing while walking, you can create an effective habit that can set your day on the right path so that you fall asleep faster at night. Be sure to avoid caffeine in the afternoons.
There is an unexplainable connection we have with nature, and you do not need to live in an oasis of beauty to experience the benefits of what nature can provide. It is everywhere. The pictures in this article are near Annapolis, Maryland, and the Chesapeake Bay.
It might not be a beach in the Bahamas, but it’s still pretty. A sunrise or sunset can make any local area more enjoyable and sometimes breathtaking, even if only for 20-30 minutes. Being outside among nature can lower blood pressure, heart rate and be a source of down regulation – removing ourselves from a stressful response — for our nervous systems.
No large body of water, nature, or park available? Try this: Find grass to walk in for a few minutes a day while barefoot, as it can help you improve your sleep and lower stress levels. In the end, get outside, breathe deeply, walk a little more, stretch a little more and work to find peace somewhere in your life.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to [email protected]
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