WildTomato March 2019

Page 76

M Y H E A LT H

Sensory & extra-sensory experiences of nature BY CINDY DE VILLIERS, GP

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uch has been reported recently about ‘wellness fads’ including those of meditation and forest bathing being taken up by Kate Middleton. I would like to make a plea that these are not fads but re-discovered ancient ways of life that modern science is remembering. Think of the benefits of nature and an expansive view often pops into our mind’s eye. We love being somewhere where we can see the view and find ourselves automatically feeling better. Nature therapy is being increasingly studied for its health benefits. Hippocrates, who lived well before the time of high-density fast-paced modern life, extoled the virtues of ‘airs, waters and place’ for good health. Fast forward to the last century when Theodore Roosevelt was sent to a ranch to work roping horses and experience the cure of ‘pleasant rural scenery’. Interestingly however, when subjects suffering from burnout compared an indoor simulated natural environment to an actual natural environment, while both were beneficial, they reported a ‘sense of being cut off from

nature’s sensory input’ and ‘a longing to be in real nature’. So, what is it that we feel when we are in nature? It may not be a surprise to know that it is not just our traditional senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste that are soothed in nature. Scientists are now starting to explore the extra-sensory benefits of nature too. It appears that all the different types of inputs we receive from nature, e.g. sound and smell, work together in a cumulative manner. Here is a taster of some of the medical literature on this increasingly important subject.

Better mental health Natural sounds are considered the most complex types of sound and are said to improve a sense of calmness and serenity. This is of course opposite to the effects of noise pollution we are increasingly exposed to. While the effect of smell is less studied, natural odours are known to have effect on our mood and brain functioning, possibly through associations such as a fragrant garden reminding us of a pleasant time. Touch, taking the form of animal

Scientists are now starting to explore the extra-sensory benefits of nature too. It appears that all the different types of inputs we receive from nature, e.g. sound and smell, work together in a cumulative manner.

petting or just getting your hands dirty in nature, is being considered as improving everything from learning to heart health. Taste links us directly to nature. Even processed food currently starts in nature. Studies have found that organic food tastes better than non-organic food and that those eating less processed foods experience better mental health. Growing food, perhaps the ultimate connection with nature, is known to improve happiness. Furthermore, we may be exposed to beneficial bacteria in the soil, air and water. Negative air ions are no longer the domain of ageing hippies! These are electrically charged air particles and are particularly dense in forests and around waterfalls but depleted in built-up areas. Think of the feeling of the air after a thunderstorm. Thunder is one mechanism for charging the air. Negative ions are used as a treatment to improve mood and have shown promise in asthma and immunity. Phytonicides are substances that plants emit and that we breathe in completely unaware of their presence. These substances are thought to be a crucial part of forestbathing. Phytonicides have been found (in rats, at least) to increase relaxation and prolong sleep. They also possibly improve immunity. So, go out (without the MP3 player), hug, smell and listen to a tree and get your hands dirty. Your body will love you for it.

Registered medical guidance towards wellness using personalised health without treatment boundaries

Functional & Integrative Medicine Dr Cindy de Villiers Contact HEALTH FUNCTION today for more info

healthfunction.co.nz 76

Specialising in thyroid & autoimmune chronic conditions