Feature Image: Courtesy Pixabay
This guest post was written by Michelle Petersen
In the 19th century, aristocrats and well-to-do members of the upper-middle class flocked to spa towns and health resorts across the western world. From Bath, England, to Hot Springs, Arkansas, the Great and the Good pursued wellness by going out into the countryside in search of fresh air, sunlight, flowing water and green space to combat the tyranny of disease. Research is proving them half right.
Spending time in nature boosts immune response, improves the symptoms of depression and lowers blood pressure and stress levels. For the millions of people struggling with addiction, access to a good therapy program that incorporates outdoor activities could make the difference between a successful recovery and relapse.
Physical activity in the natural environment has been demonstrated to bring about improvements in both short and long-term health outcomes. Studies show that a simple walk in the woods helped patients with ADHD to improve their concentration after only 20 minutes. Just living in an area with abundant parks and woodland can have lasting positive effects on mental health. Japanese research indicates that people who exercise regularly in fresh air and natural green spaces actually extend their lifespan.
A Healing Environment
Researchers are investigating the ways in which our stress responses are mitigated by being in the outdoors. A Japanese team from Chiba University theorized that our bodies evolved to interpret information about plants and streams, not traffic and high-rise buildings, and that we are adapted to relax and heal in pleasant, natural surroundings.
Finland has gone so far as to implement a program of five hours a month of nature experience to help combat their population’s high rates of alcoholism, suicide and depression. South Korea has three official “healing forests” utilized as treatment therapies for maladies as varied as cancer, depression and addiction. They plan to advance the program by adding 34 more in the next two years.
Healthy Changes In Lifestyle
In the U.S., there is a growing demand for experiential therapies to assist patients with their recovery from substance abuse and addiction. Along with traditional approaches, such as counseling and behavioral and nutrition therapies, many hospitals and rehab centers are taking their patients out into nature, with great success. Patients are engaging in myriad physical activities such as rock climbing, kayaking and hiking. These programs focus on strengthening the body and mind with healthful exercise in enriching surroundings. Participants learn teamwork and cooperation while building trust and self-confidence.
Hiking in the woods offers the recovering addict a peaceful environment in which to distract themselves from their problems, while providing them a series of obtainable goals. The next hill, the next tree and the next rock — these are all achievable. As they learn new, natural skills, they improve their mindset and find a new sense of self-worth. In nature, they are able to focus on the task at hand and draw strength from their surroundings. They can clear their minds and renew their commitment to their improved state of health.
Time spent engaged in pleasurable activity outdoors amid the shade of trees and the music of flowing water, encourages our sense of wonder and promotes a feeling of joy. It helps us to connect with nature and improve our health and well-being.
For an addict in recovery, it can also ease the symptoms of withdrawal and foster healthy lifestyle changes and the acquisition of natural skills. As Calvin Coolidge once said, “There is new life in the soil for every man. There is healing in the trees for tired minds, and for our overburdened spirits… Remember that Nature is your great restorer.”
About the Author: Michelle Peterson believes the journey to sobriety should not be one of shame but of pride. Her mission is aligned with that of RecoveryPride, which is to celebrate sobriety and those who achieve it.