As I lay in my bed in a large cardiac ward some years ago after open heart surgery, I became somewhat fixated on a tiny window on the opposite side of the ward. It wasn’t even showing a great view, unless you count a metal fire escape as ‘artistic’. If I was asked at the time, I might have said that I was fixated on the window for the following reasons… the natural light was easier on the eye than the digital monitors positioned all over the ward, the level of daylight through the window offered some sense of the time of day, that the window felt like a link to the outside world… a lifeline of sorts.
In the early weeks of my recovery at home, that connection to the outside world was important to me too. Staring out the sitting room window brought a longing, only satisfied by going outside. I assumed it was down to my knowledge that walking was important to improve my health, but I didn’t realise that my instincts might have been guiding me towards the outdoors as an actual physical therapy itself.
Yes, I knew exercise and fresh air were good for me, and had heard about things like vitamin D being released in our bodies from exposure to sunlight, and even that daylight also encouraged serotonin releases in the brain, leading to happier moods, but it wasn’t until I heard a cardiologist one day talking about ‘earthing’ that I realised that the outdoors could have more to offer my physical recovery than I had understood up to then.
The cardiologist was Dr. Stephen Sinatra and he explained that direct contact with the earth, through standing, or walking on the earth in bare feet on leather shoes, allowed the earths electrons impact our heart health for the better. In fact, ‘grounding’ as he called it, also reduced inflammation in the body, that which he emphasised was the beginning phase of all illness.
Intrigued, I sought out more information on the physical healing that time in nature might have to offer. Earthing’s benefits for hearts, or levels of inflammation, were just the tip of the iceberg. The American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias, had published studies on the advantages of horticultural based activities/therapies for patients experiencing these illnesses, whereby patients were shown to have some decreased symptoms of agitation or confusion following horticultural therapies i.e. literally digging their hands into soil.
Meanwhile a Japanese study found that forest walks triggered hormonal secretion changes that benefited type 2 diabetes sufferer’s insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels. Another study, a 2011 study published in the Environmental, Science and Technology journal, which measured “green exercise” against indoor exercise, found that; “Compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, and increased energy. “
The studies went on and on, for people with strokes, depression, cognitive impairments, PTSD, cardiac issues, and so on and so on, all indicating that connecting with nature physically benefited the patients.
And then one day I came across a study very close to my heart, a study by Dr. Roger S. Ulrich, that showed that patients with views of trees in their hospital rooms had shorter post-operative stays than those in the study that had views of walls. Further investigation led to discoveries that natural light also reduced the requirement for pain meds and recovery time.
Was that why I had been fixated on the light from that window, during my time on the ward, I wondered? Had my body known instinctively that looking through that window was a way to help my being physically recover?
While I might never know that answer for sure, I can say that having read so much of the science of nature’s healing, I can’t help but wonder why our healthcare practitioners, hospitals and systems don’t actively prescribe time in nature as part of the treatment plan, or at least have more nature on show in our hospital settings (more hospital windows, with views of outdoor planting might be a start), when science studies like all those mentioned above show that nature’s benefits go beyond that of inhalation of fresh air for our lungs, or outdoor walking opportunities for our hearts, but that actually connecting with nature itself brings healing to our bodies by virtue of the emersion and absorption that happens when we are in it, or focusing on it.
Needless to say that is not to suggest replacing pharmaceutical medication or hospital treatment plans with nature therapy only, but to include the latter as part of the care plan.
Studies have shown that nature can positively influence our physical health. Perhaps it’s time that our Doctors begin expanding our ‘prescriptions’ to include more than just pharmaceutical medications, and for our hospitals to start including aspects of nature too. It might be of great benefit to patients, and who knows, maybe even the Doctors too!
All images featured in this article have been taken by Pauline O’Shea and are ©Pauline O’Shea
PS My own love of nature is huge! Not only do I take lots of nature photos (like all featured here) but I make lots of videos of nature’s healing offerings too. If you would like to view some, you can click link here https://thehealingoflife.com/videos/
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