Nature’s medicine: How time outdoors makes us healthier
By Barbara Pierce
Imagine a remedy that has absolutely no side effects and is readily available at no cost.
A remedy that will lift your spirits, reduce your stress hormones, increase your feelings of wellbeing, lower your blood pressure, and improve your cognitive functioning.
“Just look at the beauty of nature and you’ll feel good,” said Lynn Scarfuto of Herkimer. Being out in nature has so many health benefits said the retired nurse, who regularly enjoys the beauty of the area as she photographs the Mohawk Valley as a member of Mohawk Valley Through the Lens.
She’s onto something.
Being in nature and even viewing scenes of nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.
Research done in hospitals found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety. Another study found that post-surgery patients with a view of trees out their window needed less pain medication than those without this view.
When we get close to nature — untouched wilderness or even a back yard tree — we do our overstressed brains and bodies a favor. There’s a reason they call nature the miracle medicine.
The Mohawk Valley, with our state parks, rivers, canals, and mountains, features some of the most beautiful scenery in the nation. In 1642, early settler Arent van Curler reported on this majestic valley, “the most beautiful land that the eyes of man ever beheld.”
“We get a lot of enjoyment out of being out in nature,” added Scarfuto. “My favorite area is the covered bridge in Salisbury. It’s a beautiful old bridge with a beautiful waterfall. Bob (Robert Ostrander, her significant other) loves to photograph barns. He likes to drive down back roads to see what he comes upon.”
The Canalway Trail between Mohawk and Herkimer, down to the Fort Herkimer Church, is Clifford Oram’s favorite spot. The Ilion resident is also a member of MVTTL, originated by his son.
One study found that the closer someone lived to a green space or nature area, the healthier that person was likely to be. In fact, those who lived closest to a park, nature reserve or wooded area were less likely to suffer from anxiety or depression.
Other studies have found sleep improvements, better immune system function, and lower rates of stress related disorders in those who spent regular time in nature.
All of these factors may be reasons that regular gardeners live longer and the practice of “forest bathing” (spending time in the forest) has become popular in Japan and is even prescribed and covered by some medical plans.
The Japanese practice of “forest bathing,” called Shinrin-yoku, involves walking slowly and mindfully through nature. It’s not a hike to get somewhere or a tour of a scenic area but simply an enjoyment of the outdoors. And this simple jaunt, they say, brings peace, happiness, and freedom from worry. They’re right.
“There’s something powerful and beautiful here,” said Nancy Herrick, office manager, Spring Farm CARES Animal and Nature Sanctuary, Clinton. “It’s very peaceful; very soothing. Beautiful to see.”
The Nature Sanctuary, 250 acres of forest, wetland, and grassland, has several miles of trails that are open by appointment and tours.
“The length of the tour depends on the visitor,” added Herrick. “Naturalist Matt Perry runs the sanctuary and guides the tours. He’s interesting to listen to, with a wealth of interesting tidbits you’d never know.”
“People volunteer here, an hour a week or more,” she said. “They sit with the small animals, cats, bunnies, and groom them. The animals love it. So do the volunteers.”
“This is a very welcoming place to be,” she added. “We love to have visitors and welcome everyone to tour our facility. We’d like you to make an appointment so that we have staff available to give you the complete tour.”
Appointments can be made for seven days a week. For more information, call 315-737-9339.
For more information on the nonprofit Spring Farm CARES Animal and Nature Sanctuary, see its website at www.springfarmcares.org.
If you have time to stop and smell the roses, great! But if you find yourself in a hurry (and who doesn’t these days?) simply seeing beautiful blooms can lift your spirits, according to a study done by Harvard. So buy yourself some flowers and put them on a vase near your bed. Or take the scenic route for your morning commute and make sure to actually enjoy the scenery.
“Do something good for yourself,” Scarfuto. “Just look at the beauty around you.”
The stunning photographs of MVTTL can be seen on the Facebook page “Mohawk Valley Through the Lens.”