Turns out, spinach and kale and the like aren’t the only greens that are good for you. Today we’re talking about the health value of the other type of “leafy greens” – actual leaves.

Like, the kind that grow on trees.

Turns out, spending time in nature is healthy. Really healthy. Healthy enough that some doctors are actually prescribing it for patients with attention deficit disorder and anxiety along with many physical health concerns.

“Exposure to non-threatening natural stimuli,” says Aaron Reuben in an article for Outside magazine, “…lowers blood pressure, reduces stress-hormone levels, promotes physical healing, bolsters immune-system function, raises self-esteem, improves mood, curtails the need for painkillers, and reduces inflammation.” So as long as there are no bears, a little time in nature can do real good.

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Why is nature good for me?  

The world we inhabit most of the time depletes us with its bombardment of sights, sounds, and threats – anything from a near-miss in traffic to a hostile email ramping up our cortisol, triggering the “fight, flight, or freeze” response.  

Nature is restorative, telling the parasympathetic nervous system to hit the “rest and digest” button and enjoy the wind in the trees, the sounds of birdsong, the quiet, the smells, the lack of urgency.

Being outside usually prompts us to do healthy activity, like walking, hiking, biking, gardening, swimming, etc., which is great, obviously. But you don’t have to exercise to benefit. Spending 20 minutes in nature – even sitting in a city park will do – can improve well-being.

Does it really work?

Well enough that insurance companies and health-care providers are beginning to get in the game, with Kaiser Permanente helping to fund park access and upgrades, Humana instituting a program rewards people for spending time outside, and a licensee of Blue Cross Blue Shield offering incentives to clinics willing to write “park prescriptions.”

In 2017, Washington DC pediatrician Dr. Robert Zarr founded Park Rx America, a program that allows health care providers to register as a prescriber of outdoor activity. Non-health care folks can use it to find parks near to them. To date, 220 health care professionals have joined, writing 285 prescriptions.

Menopause and Mother Nature

Women in menopause are often fairly unhappy with Mother Nature, and with good reason. But along with the challenges, nature has given us some substantial gifts.

Time in nature can help relieve some of the worst menopause symptoms.

Anxiety and depression affect many women in perimenopause and menopause, and while lacing up your boots and heading out in the weather may not sound great, nature can provide a significant boost to your mood.

Fatigue is another issue many women fight with in midlife and menopause. It’s likely that fatigue is as much a brain function as a body one, and fighting mental fatigue is one of the things nature does best.

Weight management. Exercise may not be the magic cure for the extra pounds that often come with the menopause transition, but being active can help you manage your weight.

Stress. Nature is an amazing stress reliever. Not only do we get away from stressful triggers, a long walk can actually discourage ruminating on stressful things. We can return to the challenges of life with fresh perspective, possibly greater creativity and problem-solving skills. The stress-reduction power of nature may even extend your life.

Poor sleep. Turns out, spending time in nature may actually help you sleep longer, whether it’s from the increased exercise that often comes from being outside, or the soothing nature of nature itself.

Get lost ... in nature

Most of us would acknowledge we feel better after spending time outdoors. Green zones (parks) and blue zones (beaches) can refuel dwindling resources, improve mood, calm us like little else. Unfortunately, not everyone has easy access to natural spaces, and efforts are being made by groups like the National Park Service to make it easier.

National Park Week is April 20 – 28, and park fees are waived on Saturday, April 20, so make a plan to spend some time among the leafy greens.

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National Park Rx Day is Sunday, April 28, so find out if there’s a participating park in your area or consider hosting your own. These programs offer great opportunities to learn about parks in your area, hear about the plants and animals you may not be aware of, take tours, do exercises, and more.

It may seem like such a simple thing, but ask yourself: how often do you make the effort to get outside and into a green space, even if it’s only 20 minutes? Is there a park near you where you could walk, eat your lunch on sunny days, take the dog? It could be the magic 20 minutes that make the rest of the day so much easier.

Have you received a "park prescription"? Do you make the effort to spend time in nature, or is it not available to you? Give us a minute and tell us how you feel when you take a walk in the woods. We want to hear about it, so join our community forums, or join the conversations on our Facebook page or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, our closed Facebook group. 


Shannon Perry

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