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Your Brain Needs Vitamin N (nature)Recently on a Saturday morning, I was driving to yoga class, with the windows down, the sunroof open, and tunes blasting. It was one of those brilliantly sunny days, in the mid-seventies with the humidity uncharacteristically low for August, and the air was buzzing with salient energy, life, and joy. Know what kind of day I mean?

As I whizzed along, enjoying the wind whipping my hair and sunshine warming my left arm, propped on the window opening, I noticed that very few other cars had their windows down.  “Why the heck not?” I wondered. It made me sad to see how disconnected people have become from their environment in this way as they sat in their closed off cars with the stale, recirculated air conditioning blowing on them.

Just One Hour in Nature Has Brain Benefits

OK. Some may legitimately claim allergies, but what about the rest?

Have we gotten so far removed from the Earth we live on, from the nature all around us that we can’t even enjoy, much less exist, in it without our modern comforts creating an artificial, and, often, unhealthy environment? Have we forgotten that we are part of and vitally connected to the trees, the grass, and other life all around us?

Fresh air produced in natural settings, around trees, and moving water, is good for you and your brain for many reasons. Away from the smog of cities, fresh air, being more ionized, has a different chemical makeup which is better for your body. This purer air cleans your lungs and is filled with the oxygen your brain loves.

Modern research is showing what many have known all along, that communing with nature can improve your memory, focus, and attention. After just an hour of interacting with nature, memory and attention span improved by 20%.

Nature-Deficit Disorder

In his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv, introduces the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe the growing gap between nature and people, specifically kids, and the consequences.  Louv refers to a dose of green, nature, as “vitamin N.”

In his book, Louv writes:

A growing body of research links more time in nature — or in home, work or hospital environments enhanced through nature-based design — with reduction of stress and depression, faster healing time and less need for pain medication. …Other benefits of vitamin N include enhanced use of the senses and higher work productivity.”

Your Brain Needs Vitamin N (nature)

Ways to Prevent Vitamin N Deficiency

The article, “What is ‘nature deficit disorder,’ and can the outdoors really make us feel better?” suggests the following ways to prevent it:

  • Turn off the technology – Instead of sitting in front of the TV or tablet for a few hours, replace it with outdoor time. Head out to your own backyard, take a walk or play with your kids at a neighborhood park.
  • Find a new outdoor activity – Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to play tennis or golf. You can likely get equipment secondhand, and it never hurts to check with your local parks and recreation department to see if they offer free or reduced-price classes.
  • Have fun in all four seasons – Build a snowman or go sledding in the winter; play in the rain or do a neighborhood cleanup in the spring; go for a swim or have a picnic in the summer; and go leaf peeping or to an apple orchard in the fall. The options for outdoor fun are endless.
  • Become involved with your community – Chances are, there are plenty of outdoor volunteer opportunities where you live. Park cleanup, home building and charity races are all easy ways to get the whole family involved and give back.
  • Green up your space – If you work from home, set up a workspace that has lots of natural light, preferably facing outside. The same goes for kids and homework – if the weather is nice, have them complete it outdoors or set them up at a desk near a window.
  • Try forest bathing – A safe stroll in the woods has a lot of mental and physical health benefits, and can reduce stress and anxiety. There are even studies that show natural essential oils breathed in from wood and plants can give your immune system a boost.

Conclusion

When exercising outside, you breathe more deeply, bathing your brain and muscles with even more oxygen. Your brain, an oxygen hog, uses twenty percent of your body’s oxygen. Other studies show that people who exercise outside exercised longer, more often, and reaped slight physical and psychological benefits. The benefit might have to do with getting a healthy dose of sunlight and vitamin D, which many Americans are lacking due to indoor lifestyles.

On the next pretty, warm day (or even chilly — invigorating!) roll down the car windows or open the windows in your home.

Go for a walk, run, or hike.

Take up gardening and get the added benefit of being able to eat your efforts.

Go camping under the stars and do some heavenly exploration.

Sit on a park bench and just breathe the fresh air.

Your brain and body will thank you.

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18 Comments

  1. Christopher Frawley Reply

    It’s all so true. I’ve read somewhere recently that we (our brains) need the non-specific input that a walk outside brings. It’s like we have to balance the modes of our attention. As you stated, too much sitting around staring at words and images can’t be a good thing. Awesome reminder. Thanks, I think I’ll go outside…

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Christopher, thanks for your comments. I know that I just feel better after I’ve been outside regardless of the science behind it! I regularly take a brief break and walk outside or sit in the sun. My body will feel a need for it much like being thirsty. Hope you got outside! 🙂

  2. Debbie, I found it so inspiring to know that our memory and attention improve by being in nature! I was just chewing on the fact that my mind feels more open and spacious when I go outside. It’s like the walls of the house make my mind smaller! This might be why.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sandra, I think we intuitively know what is good for our brains and bodies and could benefit by heeding this wisdom more often. The benefits of such practices manifest and are true, whether we have the science behind it or not. I like the way you put it: “making the walls of the house of my mind smaller!” Nice visual.

  3. Bonnie Hampton Reply

    Debbie, You are an inspiration to be. I thank God for you and blessed that we are related to each other. Just came in from washing the car and watering my garden and plants. I feel much better than when I went out to do these things.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Bonnie, thank you for your kind words. Sounds like you got a hefty dose of vitamin N today. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  4. Judy M. Hampton Reply

    So this explains why I head outside as soon as possible every morning to enjoy my flowers, breathe better air and feel the caress of sunshine. Some days I’m visited by chipmonks, beautiful cardinals and butterflies and an occasional hummingbird. Just makes my day better to start it this way. Love, Mom

  5. I definitely agree with the importance of communing with nature since I personally feel more invigorated and happier when I go for a walk in the midst of greens. By doing that, my stress level subsides and I feel more at peace as well.

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  8. Jane Robinson Reply

    I totally agree. We need to step away from our machines and get outdoors and enjoy life. We need to exercise more too. And for that matter, we need to eat better and take vitamin and mineral supplements to balance our diets. Sitting if front of a computer or machine all day is not healthy. Vitamin N is a great way to counter the negative effects of technology.

    • Jane, I could not agree more!! A lot of our society’s health issues could be easily remedied with simple lifestyle changes: being more active, getting outside more, eating a more natural diet with less processed junk and more real food. Don’t even get me started! 🙂

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