• Nicola Zaina

Why we need Nature

Updated: Jun 26, 2019



We can get so fixated on what we eat and the kind of exercise we do that we may forget the importance to our health of the simple things. Like spending time in nature. Well, I say simple and it is if you are fortunate enough to live in a city like Cape Town, nature is at your back door and lots of it.


What does spending time in nature mean, for me it is time in a completely natural environment, a garden, a park, a forest, a beach or the sea, mountains, dunes or a lake. Anywhere removed from the daily influences of human activity. Sometimes you can only find a small piece of it or it may not be quite as wild as hoped for, that is still better than none at all.


Connecting to nature is not just about looking at it though your window, admiring the view from a distance. Ideally you need a bit more exposure to it, which may include bugs, getting a bit hot or cold or even a little uncomfortable. That’s OK because what you want to do is try and engage completely in the experience. The more you do it the more you will enjoy it.


I encourage you to go out into the wildest piece of nature you can find, the beach or a park, a really safe space is Kirstenbosch. What do you hear, what does it smell like, what do you see and what does it feel like. Take off you shoes and walk on the grass, yes WALK ON THE GRASS. Stop listen to all the sounds close your eyes if it helps. Breath in deeply, the scents of the plants the smell of the air.


Then take note of how you feel afterwards. If you need some reasons as to why should spend time in nature then here are a few I have listed.


Vitamin D

Going outside into the sunlight is the best way to get vitamin D. If you ca,n expose as much of your skin to the sun as possible. The amount of time depends on your skin. 15 minutes for fair skin and up to 40 minutes for darker skin tones. Your shadow should be shorter than you, then you know the sun is strong enough for your body to be absorbing Vitamin D.


By getting sun exposure you will be saving yourself the cost of a vitamin D supplement. We need vitamin D to stay healthy, including enhancing our immune system, making hormones, improving mood and memory and for healthy bones. It can also help protect us against diabetes, cancer and heart disease.



Sleep

Sunlight helps set our circadian rhythm, getting early morning sunlight can help improve the quality of our sleep. I am all for getting up and out in the morning, clears the cobwebs and sets me right for the day.


Our eyes perceive 3 main colours of light (green, red and blue) There is higher concentration of blue light in the morning and it has the greatest impact on our bodies, telling our brains that it is morning and time to be alert. It helps set our clock for the day. So getting out into the early morning light can help re-calibrate our circadian rhythm and help us sleep better at night. Blue light from electronic devices at night is damaging to our health because it messes up with the natural sleep/wake cycle.


Stress

Oh yes I am back on green, studies have actually shown that looking at something naturally green can help lower stress levels. In some offices having a green wall has become a way to help improve productivity and reduce stress. When I visited Sweden, Stockholm’s central train station had a “green room” one whole wall was a living green wall. Travelling can be stressful so what a great way to de-stress. When you are feeling really stressed try and find something naturally green to look at.


Grounding

OK I know I may sound like some old hippie but the importance of really connecting to the earth is very important for our health. From an electrical perspective the earth has a negative charge (also known as an alkaline charge) This negative charge is also present around waterfalls, waves and even campfires.


We have become separated from this negative charge by wearing shoes and covering up the earth. Being in touch directly with the earth and connecting to this negative charge can help improve our overall health. The easiest way to benefit from this negative charge from the earth is to walk barefoot or swim in the sea, natural lakes or rivers.



Bring Nature to Us

A growing trend of city living, which doesn’t always allow us access to nature is to bring nature into the workspace and into our daily lives. This is known as re-naturalisaton, it includes finding ways to incorporate nature into cities that are normally very nature unfriendly . All cities should find as many opportunities to be nature friendly, there are some amazing technologies out there to help make this happen. One example of this are green roofs.


You can also re-naturalise your environment for yourself by creating a vertical living wall at home, planting pots on your balcony or ensuring you have as many drought resistant plants in your garden as possible. Even just having a pot plant at work can help.


My Challenge

I think the importance of connecting to nature is often dismissed with regards to our health. It is in fact an important element of health and one that also happens to be free.


I challenge you to try as many of the following every day:

  • Walk barefoot on grass, beach sand or soil.

  • Swim or take a quick dip into sea water

  • Absorb the sun by exposing your skin

  • Breath in those deep fragrances of nature

  • Look at something naturally green

  • Get out into the early light of day


Embrace the experience and notice the positive impact it is having on your health and your happiness.


Health is about the food you eat, and the way you move your body.
It's about stilling the mind and connecting to others and nature.
Health is about living a meaningful life that brings you joy & fulfilment.
Find ways to be healthy every day, have fun & don't get stressed or obsess about it.
Health may not look the same for everyone but being healthy is worth striving for.
Nicola Zaina     
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