This Autumn, I have become aware of the gift of beauty we are surrounded by as the trees burst into the colorful palette of crimson red, lime green yellow, sherbet orange. As I experience the beauty, I am reminded to stay present in the moment and appreciate the beauty that stands in front of me. It is so easy to drift off into thoughts of dread…uggh leaves to rake…cold weather coming…bare trees…etcetera. As it turns out, the Fall foliage show is a gift worthy of appreciation, so long as you can stay present in the moment and embrace the beauty that stands in front of you.
Time in nature can be restorative. In research that was carried out in Japan, the group of people was sent to visit the forest and urban environments and to view forest and urban landscapes randomly for 3 days. Four times a day researchers monitored their cortisol levels (stress hormone), blood pressure and heart rate. It turns out, that when participants were in forest environments, all measures were lower and subjectively, they reported feeling more comfortable, soothed and refreshed after viewing forest landscapes.
As it turns out, the experience of beauty is one that stimulates the medial orbito frontal cortex (MoFC) of your brain. The frontal cortex of your brain houses your highest thinking centers. This is also the part of your brain that is activated while eliciting the relaxation response (ie. meditation, yoga, MBSR, etc.). According to neurology research by Tomohiro Ishizu of University College London, the MoFC area is activated when experiencing beauty, both visual and musical, on functional MRI (which is an imaging modality that allows us to see areas of the brain that are activated in real time) . The more intense the perception of beauty, the more the activation of the area.
Putting this research together, and of course the research on the health optimizing benefits of mindfulness and exercise, save yourself some green by giving yourself a truly restorative “spa walk” outside to embrace the autumn beauty. Come back home and curl up with cozy afghan and a hot cup of spicy herbal tea and suddenly, the doom and gloom of the Winter to come might not seem so overwhelming.
Here are simple ways we can save our planet while promoting our own vitality and longevity. Taking these steps for better health will also contribute to conservation of nature on our beautiful planet.
#1 Go Vegan: Nutrition is one of the optimum ways we can save the planet while improving our health. As a physician, the most interesting field for me to see evolve is the field of nutrition. Once thought to have no bearing on health by the field of medicine, doctors now agree that a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do for promoting health and wellness. The healthiest diet for prevention of chronic disease and for longevity is a vegan diet and the silver lining is that it is also beneficial for the planet. Eating lower on the food chain leads to more efficient energy use, greater diversity of plants and animals, and reduced pollution of our water from nitrogenous animal waste. In addition, a plant based diet provides us with the whole foods and nutrient balance that our bodies have evolved to thrive on. Ecosystems benefit from diversity, and as it turns out, so does the ecosystem of bacteria that exists in your own body so be sure to eat a diet rich and varied in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. To learn more, check out the documentary Forks over Knives, or pick up the new book on making the transition to a plant based diet. Want to do one better? Go organic! Check out the dirty dozen list from the Environmental Working Group to find out which organic fruits will give you the best bang for your buck related to pesticide reduction. Have access to a community garden? SAVE THE BEES and GROW YOUR OWN VEGGIES! Sign the petition to promote vegetable gardens everywhere.
#2 Get into Nature: The benefits of getting into nature are far reaching. For one, you are likely to be exercising which is the other most important thing doctors recommend you do for your health. Live in a city? no problem, hit the park, green space of any kind will still give you the benefits. If you have access to a community garden, you’re loving it, not only are you benefitting from digging in the soil, you will also be providing food for dying bee and butterfly populations as well as improving the nutrient content of your vegetables. Heart rate variability, which is an indicator of heart health and balance of the parasympathetic and sympthetic nervous systems, increases when you are in nature. Preliminary studies have shown that “earthing”, basically walking barefoot on dirt, leads to positive physiologic changes. (Just watch out if you live in an area with pin worms). Hate bugs? …try a lemon eucalyptus based bug spray, recommended by the CDC to prevent tick and mosquito borne disease, and don’t forget the sunscreen! Check out the free database on Skindeep.org for non-toxic sunscreen options. Want to become more involved in conservation itself? Check out The Nature Conservancy volunteer activities in your area.
#3 Mindful Awareness and Meditation: Living mindfully allows us to separate from habitual thinking and behaviors. All too often we function on autopilot, allowing automatic behaviors and primal feelings to drive our actions and behaviors. Being mindful, living true to our core values and making conscious choices about how we spend our money, our time and our energy can help us to make important health changes like the ones I mention here. It can also make us more compassionate which is probably the most important value to have in our work protecting the planet. If you haven’t jumped on the meditation band wagon yet, or still think it is not something you are capable of in our non-stop stimulating culture, it might be easier than you think. I recommend the Jon Kabat Zinn book Full Catastrophe Living or one of his youtube videos as an introduction to mindfulness and meditation. You can also check out free guided meditations from UCLA’s Semel Institute.
#4: Bike! As much and as often as possible. If you follow this blog you have seen the “carternative” my husband has created to cart us around town. This contraption has improved our quality of life ENORMOUSLY. We don’t have to look for parking, we save on gas and parking tickets, and we usually get where we are going faster, or as fast as in a car. This is especially true for urban environments. Any time you bike instead of turning on your car, you are reducing carbon emissions, not to mention reducing oil consumption while exercising your body and calming your mind. Don’t want to arrive at work all sweaty? Consider an electric assist on your bike. Check out this blog that covers bikes as transportation as well.
#5: Shop Less: Excess consumption and a BUY BUY BUY culture contributes greatly to carbon emissions, global warming and landfill waste. Shopping less is healthy for your wallet as well as your mental health. A very interesting study published in the Chicago Journals by Rik Pieters found that materialism and shopping lead to loneliness which in turn led to more shopping. Still believe in retail therapy? Try consignment stores and thrift shops instead. They are a great way to reduce waste while benefiting others, find a Goodwill or Salvation Army near you. Studies show that giving to others can makes you happier, particularly if you give directly to someone you know so there is added incentive to simplifying and cleaning out those closets. Having willpower difficulties in curbing that shopping habit? Try the book Willpower Instinct here to learn more about how you can curb cravings and increase your willpower.
If you are interested in implementing some of the changes I mention here, remember, persistence AND positivity pay off! Take time to observe how you can be successful at making the changes and always prepare for what could go wrong and sabotage your success ahead of time. Finally, be sure to focus on the rewards, there are plenty of silver linings with these changes.
Don’t just exercise, have fun doing it! You will lose more weight by making better food choices after you finish. How so?
According to this article published in the journal, Marketing Letters on May 15, 2014, 2 groups of women were told to walk the same one mile course in 30 minutes. One group of women was told to walk the course for exercise, while the other group of women was told to walk the course as a form of enjoyment. The enjoyment group was told that the purpose was to have fun. They were given music to listen to and instructed to rate the clarity of the music at 6 stops along the way.
When they returned, the women from both groups were invited to the same “all-you-can-eat” buffet. They were also given an option of applesauce for dessert or chocolate pudding and a beverage of either water or Coke.
While the groups of women consumed the same amount of calories from the buffet, the women that walked for exercise were significantly more likely to choose both the sugary dessert and the sugary beverage and consumed more of them, thus increasing their overall calorie intake when compared to the women that were instructed to exercise for fun!
They were compensating for their excellent exercise behavior by eating more sweets and sugary beverages. WOW!
They also measured levels of fatigue and mood after the exercise. Women that exercised for the sake of exercise experienced more fatigue while the exercise group doing it for fun reported a more positive mood. Remember, having a positive mood improves many health outcomes and leads to more success with health behavior changes.
So don’t just exercise, ENJOY IT!
Here are some articles exploring how to do just that!
We all know those fitness people we encounter in our lives who are happy, healthy and glowing. They definitely have the best career because they are getting paid to do what they love and getting paid to move. They are definitely my happiest patients. (We all know them and secretly love to hate them)! But they’re not dumb for choosing that lifestyle…You do not need to quit your career and become a personal trainer to feel great. You do, however, need to move.
The most important thing to actually exercise is your personal motivation and drive to do it. Making the commitment to yourself on a deep level has to be the starting point. It might help to reframe why you are exercising. The payoffs from exercise are slow to come. It does not give you the same instant gratification that you get from say, eating some chocolate ice cream or having a glass of wine while you snuggle up to your favorite (dramedy, sit com, game show,…) on the couch. Therefore, if you are doing for a specific goal, like fitting into a pair of jeans, or even for losing weight, you might feel dejected and disappointed in your progress. Instead, it might be helpful to focus on a desire to do it for long term health and wellness, ie. Sticking around a bit longer to have time with the ones you love, having more energy to function in your daily life, or feeling well enough to enjoy that retirement you have been working so hard for. Making the choice for something positive you really, really want!
I find that my patients who are able to exercise every day have made it a part of their daily routine.
If you don’t do it, you won’t do it.Here, self-awareness is key. Observing your daily actions and mindfully deciding where you can actually fit your exercise in, what you actually need to accomplish it, and what some barriers to doing it might be. Then taking the time to make a plan and commit to it. Also, find something you love to do for exercise. If you love it, you are much more likely to do it. If you can’t do it for one day, or even one week, it is okay, don’t let this drag you down into the guilt cycle and into stopping altogether, just ask yourself again what might be getting in your way and make your choices. We all fall off the horse sometimes, and let’s face it, the hardest thing to change is habits. But it CAN be done!
The benefits of exercise are far reaching and the importance to mind body health cannot be overstated. It has to be a part of your life or you will never achieve balance in your mind body health. It does not need to be much. Just 30 minutes out of 24 hours, but the more you can do, the better.
Remember to combine strength training and aerobic activity to reap the full benefits.
Here is a list of what exercise can do for your mind body health:
Burns the stress hormone “cortisol” and is crucial for hormone balance.
Can help to keep your period regular and less painful
Increases will power and motivation
Decreases blood pressure and improves digestion of sugar
It can improve your symptoms around your menstrual cycle, decreasing bleeding and pain
It improves sleep patterns
Builds bones and improves posture with long term prevention from osteoporosis
Trims your waist line reducing your long term risk of diabetes heart disease and all those other chronic diseases that lead to sudden death prematurely
Silver lining? Eventually it gives you that svelte figure you’ve been hoping for, but I strongly precaution against doing exercise for physical appearance and instead focus on accepting yourself just as beautiful as you already are.
Here are some links for excellent free exercise resources that you can do at home, FOR FREE!
Go Outside! Not only will you get that vitamin D boost you’ve been needing from the sunlight, the fresh air will invigorate you and if you live in a city, the other runners passing by will motivate you.
Exercise in nature. Taking a hike, climbing rocks and boulders, or swimming in a lake or river give us much more than exercise alone. We live so separate from nature these days and being in nature can center and ground us. Besides the healthy bacteria that live in dirt can actually be beneficial to us. Seriously! You don’t have to go far, a nearby park will suffice to reinvigorate the body, mind and spirit.
Do it with a group. Friends motivate us when we don’t want to do anything. Group exercise classes are a great option too to keep you moving. You vibe on the energy in the room. You don’t necessarily need to join a gym. Check out your local meetup.com groups.
Dance! Dancing not only burns calories, it releases endorphins which can prolong your life by making you healthier and make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Sign up for a race. It doesn’t have to be 26.2 mile marathon. Even signing up for a 5 K can get you motivated to start an exercise routine. Just having the goal to work towards is key. Check out the couch to 5K program, which is great for folks who have never exercised before: http://www.c25k.com/
If you do not exercise regularly, please consult a physician before trying any of the above activities. Accessing this site means you agree to the disclaimer that can be read here.