Brain in Nature

Nature: The original and best wonder drug

It’s the year 2036. You visit your doctor to chat about your symptoms of low mood, irritability and fatigue. You’ve put on weight and you’re not sleeping well….She pulls out her prescription pad and scrawls a note. You’ve been prescribed a three-day wilderness hike, followed by a medicinal daily dose of 30 minutes of sitting in a park.

Sound improbable? Well, it’s actually not so far fetched as we may think. Spending time outside is fast becoming the wonder drug for stressed out workers, apathetic kids, the overweight, strung-out parents and just about any other group of humans. Indeed the evidence continues to mount as researchers from around the globe study the power of ‘nature play’ to restore, re-energise, de-stress and essentially protect us from physical and mental illness.

This makes me feel vindicated. I’ve always returned from my treks with a quiet euphoria, but almost unable to describe this feeling to others. Your soul is stirred, you feel weary yet refreshed, relaxed but alert. What causes this seemingly contradictive state?

It turns out that your brain is not the 24-7 super organ that was once thought. It is more like a muscle that fatigues and is in need of rest and rejuvenation as outlined in National Geographic cover story this month. The research appears to show a direct correlation in reduction of stress hormone cortisol with time spent in natural settings. Exactly why this is occurring is still being explored however bush fever seems to be catching. A recent article in Wild has shown bushwalking double in popularity amongst Australians in the last 5 years…that’s big. Healing Forests are opening all over South Korea booming with visitors. And it’s not just for adults. ‘Forest Kindergartens’ in Switzerland are becoming popular where the children spend most of the day outdoors exploring, regardless of the weather.

Can’t hike? No problem! Any time spent outdoors with an open sky and a bit of dirt under your feet will have a positive effect. Getting your hands in the garden or bare feet connected with the earth will also calm your farm.  It’s called Earthing, and is also gaining momentum as a simple and natural way to relax your brain.

It’s great to know that science is proving this link, however I prefer to tune into the less scientific and slightly more mysterious, divine feeling of being out in nature. It’s the best buzz I’ve found – totally addictive and an absolutely essential part of modern day wellbeing.