Your New Prescription: Vitamin N

You’re sure to get your vitamin A by eating carrots and you take your vitamin C capsule if you’ve got a cold coming on, but when was the last time you got a dose of vitamin N? While there isn’t actually a molecule by this name, it might be time to start thinking of Nature as an essential ingredient in a healthy lifestyle.  This is something that intuitively we’ve know for a long time, but science is showing that the benefits are real and measurable and it’s time we took note.  Whether it’s an ocean, a forest, a field, a lake, a stream, community garden, your backyard or local playground, a natural setting can often be found close to where you are. 

However, North Americans spend 95% of their day indoors or in a vehicle.  The average child spends 6 minutes doing outdoor activities and 6 hours using a computer or watching television daily. 

Research has started to look at the effect of spending time in nature and the results are remarkable.  Technology that shows activity of the brain has demonstrated that when adults view scenes of nature, areas of the brain that are associated with emotional stability and love are more active.  In contrast, when they look at images of an urban landscape, areas of the brain associated with stress and fear are activated.  It’s been shown that when hospital patients can see trees from their hospital room, they recover faster and require less pain medication.  The following is a list of other benefits associated with time spent in nature:

  • decreased blood sugars and blood pressure
  • reduced obesity
  • reduced stress, anxiety and incidence of clinical depression
  • improved impulse control
  • increased immune functions
  • increased energy
  • improved cognitive function
  • improved performance in the workplace and increased job satisfaction
  • improved memory and focus
  • improved academic performance in children

If a medication or supplement could do all of these things, who wouldn’t be taking it? Oh, and let’s not forget that it’s also free!

Vitamin N has a lot of positive side effects too. Spending time in nature can be a form of physical activity.  Whether it’s hiking on a trail, gardening in your yard or an evening stroll to the neighbourhood park, these activities get you up and moving which will further add to the health benefits.  Also, spending time outdoors regularly provides sun exposure needed for vitamin D production in your skin. 

You may be wondering about the dose of Vitamin N that you need to get benefits.  Two minutes in nature relieves stress, as measured by muscle tension, blood pressure and brain activity.  One hour in nature improves memory and attention span by 20%. Two consecutive days in nature increases white blood cells –the infection and cancer fighting cells of our immune system – by 50%.

Maybe it’s time that we shift our perception about spending time in nature – from something we indulge in on long weekends to something that the doctor ordered to maintain our health and wellbeing.  Let’s work to eliminate nature-deficiency!

References:

http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/panther-lounge/assets_c/2012/06/get-outside-infographic-cottagecountry-3512.php

http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/panther-lounge/2012/06/help-spread-the-word/

http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/docs-talk/2011/11/your-brain-on-nature/

http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/docs-talk/2012/10/sharpen-your-memory-with-a-simple-walk-in-nature/

Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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