Short answer: YEP!
Long answer: keep reading.
Our parasympathetic nervous system can be summarized as being responsible for “rest and digest.” It is responsible for the healing, growth, and recovery of our body. It is the brake pedal of the nervous system, which should be easily accessed during our day to day lives. Unfortunately, most of us spend an inordinate amount of time in our sympathetic nervous system. This is the system responsible for “fight or flight.” It is the gas pedal of our nervous system. This is what is engaged when we are jarred from our sleep by an alarm every morning, and then is fueled by our multiple cups of coffee throughout the day. It is where pretty much every patient who walks into the Future Generations office lives.
If you think about a lion on the savannah…how do they spend most of their days? They spend it lying around, napping, and playing. This is parasympathetic. However, when they need to stalk and hunt, that’s when the sympathetic kicks in. When that is done, they go back to the routine of just lying around doing nothing. As humans, we would be a lot healthier if this is how we spent our days. Unfortunately, we live deadline to deadline, in a go-go-go fast paced environment, with minimal rest, and maximum input. Typically, our days are filled with things we are directly responsible for, and required to see through. What makes you think our systems are wired any differently than those lions?
This has led to an unhealthy, overmedicated, populace that is at the end of their ropes.
How can nature help? Let’s talk about it…
“Nature triggers the parasympathetic nervous system by inducing a soft fascination—a passive attention which allows us to voluntarily pay attention to things that function completely independently of us. When taking a walk outside, we do not influence our surroundings and we are not immediately responsible for them. Plants and animals going about their natural habitats immediately require nothing from us so we can involuntarily be fascinated which gives our bodies the opportunity it needs to restore our mental capacities for directed attention.”
So…it shouldn’t come as any surprise that nature is beneficial to us. We are made to be outside interacting with our environment. We are not made to sit inside all day, under artificial light, staring at an assortment of screens, while being constantly bombarded with information. After that, we go home and sit some more, look at more screens, and end the day with a night of awful sleep.
Whenever I spend a good amount of time outside with my feet in the sand/dirt/grass, in the sunshine, or after jumping in the ocean – I sleep like an absolute rock. Do you ever notice how well you sleep after a day at the beach?
One easy tip to help with sleep/circadian rhythm is to get outside during the first couple hours of sunshine. This tells your system you are awake with the sun and should be ready to sleep when the sun goes down.
So…to summarize…at Future Generations, we are big advocates of getting outside and getting into nature, even if that means just stepping out into your backyard for 10 minutes in the morning. That is better than nothing. I talk about getting outside into nature during our Raising Healthy Kids Naturally class because of how important it is for development. I often give patients “homework” for spending some time outside. Let your kids get dirty as well…it is good for their gut. One of my favorite ways to get outside is to go for a walk on the beach, barefoot of course, and finish with a jump into the ocean regardless of the water temp. Cold water is good for you too, but that’s a different subject.
If you’d like to go deeper into this subject, I recommend this book. It has all the science, charts, and graphs one could ask for. It talks extensively about how connecting with the earth lowers inflammation and improves heart health.