"Nature itself is the best physician.” – Hippocrates
There’s something about time spent in nature that makes us feel better. I’m sure you’ve experienced it. Whether it’s a quick stroll around the block, stopping to watch the rustling leaves of a nearby tree, or marveling at the view on a hike, being in nature makes us feel restored. It clears our mind and helps remind us that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Time in nature is time spent outside of our various four walls and away from our multiple screens. It gives us a break from the rush of our daily lives, fosters presence and inspires awe.
There is abundant research that confirms the profoundly healing and restorative effects of nature on our mind and body. Exposure to nature:
A new meta-analysis compiling evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people from 20 countries found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces: reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, and increases sleep duration.
The research on Japanese “forest bathing” suggests that health-boosting effects of being around trees (like reduced levels of cortisol, reduction in blood pressure and improved immunity) could be explained by phytoncides -- organic compounds with antibacterial properties -- released by trees.
Whether it’s the arena for physical activity that nature provides, mindfulness that it inspires, community it connects us to or microbes and plant compounds that it exposes us to, the research is clear: nature heals. And the beautiful thing is that it doesn’t take long. Another recent study reveals that just 20 minutes of contact with nature is enough time for significant decreases in cortisol.
Humans flourish in nature. And this is especially true for our children. As Richard Louv writes in Last Child in the Woods, time in nature is an essential investment in our children’s health (and our own). All of us, especially children, are spending more time indoors, which makes us feel alienated from nature and more vulnerable to negative moods and reduced attention spans. Nature-Deficit Disorder (NDD) may not be a recognized medical condition, but it’s pervasive as our rates of screen time continue to rise. As with most healthy habits, they start in childhood. It’s even more important that we inspire a love for nature while children are young so they can develop into thriving adults. Perhaps it would inspire these younger generations to be better stewards of the land to boot!
With the winter solstice behind us we know that longer days are ahead. Go outside today and rediscover that sense of wonder that nature provides. And share it with all of the kids in your life. Prescribe yourself with nature and feel restored. The beautiful thing about it is that you don’t have to go hike to a mountain peak. Any green space provides benefits to our mental and physical well-being. Whether it’s the quiet corner with a tree, neighborhood park, vegetable garden, or a peaceful place with a view of the sky and clouds above, nature is available to us all and it patiently waits.
Resistance exercise is medicine. Whether using dumbbells or kettlebells, your own body weight, rubber tubing or a jug of water, resistance exercise, also known as strength training, increases the strength and mass of our muscles, bones, and boosts our metabolism. The benefits of resistance exercise are well-documented and ongoing research continues to prove that it's an important activity for us all to engage in, especially as we age.
Benefits of resistance training include:
Heeding the above information, I do my best to incorporate resistance training into my lifestyle. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of two days each week, so that is my goal. I have a favorite kettle bell circuit, practice yoga, rent workout videos from the library, and consult my weekly Women’s Health magazine for new ideas. When lifting weights, a typical training program involves one to three sets of several different exercises targeting the major muscle groups like the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, pectorals, and deltoids. Additional exercises can be added for smaller muscle groups, such as biceps, triceps, trapezious, or calves. Repetition ranges are typically 8–15 per set (make sure to use a weight heavy enough to cause fatigue at the end of each set), and rest intervals between sets typically last 1–2 minutes, allowing a strength training session to be completed in 20–30 minutes. For injury prevention, proper technique is essential.
What resistance exercises do you practice? Share with me and others in the comment area below, I look forward to hearing about your favorite exercises and experiences.
The more active we are, the healthier we are. All forms of aerobic activity or "cardio" that get us breathing harder and our hearts beating faster are associated with improvements in numerous health conditions including heart disease, hypertension, stroke, insulin sensitivity, osteoporosis, and depression. Muscle-strengthening activities (more on these in a later post) build muscle strength, endurance, increase bone density and can boost our metabolisms. And stretching exercises increase flexibility, can reduce stress and prevent injury. All three of these exercises are recommended, but how much? And how much are we getting?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all adults receive 2.5 hours/week of moderate-intensity* aerobic activity (30 minutes 5 days/week) and muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days per week; however, 80% of adults in the United States do not meet these guidelines with 51.6% meeting the aerobic activity guidelines and only 29.3% meeting the muscle-strengthening guidelines.
Some of the most common reasons adults cite for not adopting more physically active lifestyles include: not having enough time, a lack of self-motivation and confidence in their ability to be physically active (low self-efficacy), find exercise inconvenient, and a fear of being injured or have been injured recently. Our environment can also affect our ability and desire to be active, for example, if we lack encouragement and support from our family and peers or if our neighborhoods lack parks, sidewalks, bicycle lanes or safe spaces.
Discovering and addressing our unique barriers to physical activity should be the first step on our path to a more active lifestyle. What are your barriers? Without taking the appropriate time to reflect and become more self-aware of your own habits and roadblocks, they will repeatedly get in your way.
Here are some ways to overcome common physical activity barriers, ways to make it fun and how to ensure your environment supports your goal to move more:
Schedule it in. Treat physical activity like a regular part of your daily or weekly schedule and write it on your calendar. Also, keep in mind that all types of activities count as long as we’re doing them at a moderate or vigorous-intensity for at least 7 to 10 minutes at a time. Schedule in small bouts of activity throughout your day and surprise yourself with how much activity you can fit in!
Make it fun! Bust out your favorite tunes on your MP3 player while hiking on the trail or power walk in the house while watching Leslie Sansone’s Walk away the Pounds.
Recruit fitness buddies. Rather than meeting your friends over pizza and beer or for a latte, find a beautiful place outdoors for a walk, some flag football or a kickboxing class. If your friends aren't interested, branch out and hit up meetup.com!
Set S.M.A.R.T. goals. When planning your goals, go through all the details. When and where will you do it? How will you fit it into your schedule? What do you need to get started? Writing things down often adds a level of accountability and opportunity for rewarding yourself. (More on S.M.A.R.T. goals in another post)
Get a pedometer. Did you know that those who wear pedometers walk at least 2,000 more steps (1 mile!) per day than those who don’t?
Fit physical activity into your daily routine: walk or ride your bike to work or shopping, walk the dog, exercise while you watch TV, park farther away from your destination, etc.
Get the family on board: having a network of friends and family who support your efforts to move more and eat healthy will be fundamental to your success. Explain your desire to lead an active lifestyle to friends and family; ask them to support your efforts. Partake in post-dinner walks, coordinate a hike over the weekend or rent a Zumba video for a family workout in the living room!
Leverage your lunch hour! Is there time to fit in a walk or some chair yoga into your break? Get your coworkers involved and hit the streets!
Change your mindset: If your barrier is low-energy, convince yourself that if you give it a chance physical activity will increase your energy level; then, try it. You may be surprised by the result. Our mind is truly the first battleground.
Learn a new skill. It’s often our lack of self-efficacy and confidence that prevents us from being active. If that’s your barrier take some time to learn an activity you’ve always been interested in, such as ballroom dancing, square dancing, or swimming.
Plan for setbacks! Effective change involves small changes and problem solving. Roadblocks will always appear, whether it’s the impending holidays or rain in the forecast that may cancel your scheduled walk. Get in the habit of brainstorming specific strategies to overcome your unique roadblocks in advance so you’re prepared to overcome them!
One last note on weight loss: for those striving to lose weight, it has been found that many people may need more than the equivalent of 2.5 hours/week of moderate-intensity physical activity to maintain their weight and up to 5 hours/week (~45min/day) to lose weight. Start where you’re at, reflect on your barriers and try out those tips above.
*You can tell if it’s moderate-intensity by doing the talk test: you'll be able to talk, but not sing the words to your favorite song. You can tell if your activity is vigorous-intensity if you aren’t able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.
I have not been practicing what I preach as of late, sitting a lot at my desk. As I wrote in a prior post, sitting is the new smoking in terms of harm to overall health. It’s associated with increased risk for heart disease and diabetes as well as weak core muscles and tight hip flexors and hamstrings. This week, I’ve been making a diligent effort to stand up while on the phone, take frequent walks around the office and ensure that I head out to a nearby trail on my lunch break. I also did a little office yoga session and am inspired to keep this going.
Yoga is a centuries old tradition, combining movement with breath. It is a great form of exercise that reduces muscle tension, increases flexibility, muscle strength and tone, provides cardio and circulatory health, and can even boost immunity.
I printed out the picture in this post that I found online and posted it to my wall. If you Google “office yoga” there are tons of great resources and PowerPoint presentations to give you even more ideas for simple stretches and strengthening exercises you can do from your desk and chair. Spread the word to your coworkers and let’s be the healthy role models we know we can be! Now…if I can only get a standing desk. That’ll be my next move.
Also, check out this dope infographic by the Huffington Post: Your body on yoga
I am off for my lunch hour walk. Some days I drag my feet, but knowing how I’ll feel once I return to the office gets me out (more on exercise and mood soon). In addition I have to keep accountable to my lunchtime walking partners (thank you Leslie and Teresa)!
If you haven’t heard yet, “sitting is the new smoking”. Sitting and smoking you ask? Well, research is beginning to equate sitting to smoking in terms of harm to overall health. A 2012 study analyzing the results of 18 studies with a total of nearly 800,000 participants found that higher levels of sedentary behavior were associated with a 112% increase in the risk of diabetes, 147% increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease, 90% increase in the risk of cardiovascular mortality and 49% increase in the risk of all cause mortality. Prolonged sitting is not what nature intended for us, yet it’s become the norm. Sitting in the car or in public transportation, sitting in front of a computer at work, sitting in meetings, sitting in front of the TV….the average American spends an average of 7.7 hours sitting each day.
So how can we fight this sitting disease? Here are some thoughts:
· Get off the bus or train a stop early
· Take the stairs
· Set up walking meetings at work and hiking dates with family and friends
· Set up reminders to walk at lunch or during breaks
· Walk or stand while on the phone
· Get a pedometer and count your steps (research shows that those who wear pedometers walk up to 2,000 more steps each day than non-wearers!)
· Start incorporating post-meal walks (which are effective at lowering the glycemic impact for those managing their blood sugar)
· Choose a parking spot that's far from the store entrance -- or just walk to the store
· Get a dog (dog owners take approximately 25% more steps per day than non-owners)
However you choose to fight the sitting the disease, whether it's during the work day, before or after, it should match your personal tastes and limitations. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that healthy adults walk or exercise aerobically at a moderate pace* at least 150 minutes or at a vigorous pace at least 90 minutes a week. They also recommend adding resistance and flexibility training 2 to 3 times a week. This might be too much to start. An initial goal of walking 15 minutes 3 times a week will benefit you in the beginning and leave plenty of room for you to increase the duration as your mood and energy improve.
Alrighty then, I'm outta here. As the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, said, “walking is man’s best medicine.” Let’s all start taking his advice today.
* You'll know its moderate by taking the “talk test” — you should be able to talk while working out, but not sing.
Hello and welcome! My name is Andrea Notch Mayzeles. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist, Mom, and Master of Public Health dedicated to the path of well-being. As a wellness professional I am committed to continued learning and am here to share research, recipes and musings on health, psychology, personal development, and parenting. I hope you enjoy!