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Improve Mild Depression and Physical Health By Getting Out In Nature In Fall and Winter

Posted Nov 25 2009 10:01pm

Shawna and Harry the Pug doing some fall planting in the garden

Although it is getting colder and darker out, now is the season to get off that couch and get outside more than ever. There are several reasons why I encourage you to keep working out in nature whenever you are able.

As the days shorten, our bodies receive less exposure to daylight. This triggers a chemical response in many which can cause mild depression. Simultaneously, the weather gets colder and we feel more hungry than usual. Scientists call this the “Heat-Production Theory”. Scientists have discovered that people eat more in Fall and Winter because instinctually we are trying to keep our bodies warm. Cavemen, by adding additional fat to their bodies, increased their chances of survival.

Add on top of the “Heat-production Theory” that less exposure to daylight can make us more depressed. That leads to subconsciously eating “comfort food” to try and stimulate the “feel good” chemicals in our brain.

There are many “feel good” chemicals which can make you feel better. Chief of these is serotonin (as well as other brain chemicals like norepinephrine). The average human being can improve levels of serotonin specifically by being exposed to daylight for approximately 20 minutes per day.

This is an important part of my health philosophy. It’s about teaching people how they can have more energy, be less depressed and improve their mindset. Getting outside in nature regularly is critical to the production of serotonin – this reduces stress and depression. Repeated studies have shown that simple exposure to trees and nature is enough to help a person feel better. According to Dr. Richard O’Connor, author of “Undoing Perpetual Stress”, “[A] study of ten years’ worth of patients recovering from gallbladder surgery at a particular hospital found that the patients who could see trees from their windows requested significantly less pain medication, got along better with the nurses, and had shorter hospital stays than those whose windows faced an airshaft.”

Physical activity compounds these positive benefits. For example, regular exercise reduces mild depression and does other amazing things – like reducing pain intensity, increasing positive emotional attitude and increase your chances of living longer. According to the Mayo Clinic website ( www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/HQ01676 ), there are 7 strong benefits of regular physical activity:

1. Exercise Improves Your Mood

2. Exercise Combats Chronic Diseases

3. Exercise Helps You Manage Your Weight

4. Exercise Strengthens Your Heart and Lungs

5. Exercise Promotes Better Sleep

6. Exercise Can Put The Spark Back Into Your Love Life

7. Exercise Can Be Fun

My personal favorite off-season activity is walking. If I’m not out moving rocks around in my garden or building a new bed of some sort, then I walk. Sometimes I walk in the neighborhood, but other times I use some common sense and walk more when running the regular errands I have in life. I take the stairs instead of the elevator. I might park my car in the farthest space in the parking lot when going to the mall or stop off at a Forest Preserve during lunch and walk around the lake.

I make sure that wherever I sit to do computer work I am able to see nature. From my office I can see a young Oak Tree and a Locust Tree out one window and a line of Maples out my back window. If you are not gifted with windows in your office then I would suggest a “daylight” lamp which exposes you to increased levels of broad spectrum light.

Why do I take these steps? Because I am worth it; and so are you! Being emotionally and physically healthy is important to you and your family. If it’s a downright blizzard outside I use my treadmill and read my favorite book under the gleam of a “daylight” lamp.

In the end, there is really no excuse for staying inside like a hermit in colder weather. If you have children, you will notice that schools encourage recess play during cold weather. It increases the children’s health and reduces germ levels inside – it’s healthy for children and it is healthy for adults as well.

If you are wondering what specifically to do in nature right now, a great place to start is in the garden. Projects can be done through most of Fall and Winter, with a halt happening only for the deepest snow. You can build a compost bin, creatively make your own pots for next years annuals, trim bushes and trees, repair arbors and trellises, feed the birds, help others in the community with all the outside work they might need assistance with. The list can go on and on.

This blog is posted today on both my greening blog – www.gardeningnude.com AND my gardening blog – http://thecasualgardener.blogspot.com – ENJOY!

Shawna Coronado says Get Healthy! Get Green! Get Community! www.thecasualgardener.com.

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