The holistic connection: Nature's influence on emotional and physical well-being with Orange Beach counselor

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Posted 5/3/24

In the rush of modern life, the profound impact of nature on our well-being often goes unnoticed. Whether it's the tranquil embrace of a forest, the invigorating freshness of a morning breeze or the …

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The holistic connection: Nature's influence on emotional and physical well-being with Orange Beach counselor


In the rush of modern life, the profound impact of nature on our well-being often goes unnoticed.

Whether it's the tranquil embrace of a forest, the invigorating freshness of a morning breeze or the rhythmic crash of waves along the shoreline, nature's therapeutic power is undeniable.

Yet, amid the serenity of green spaces lurks an invisible threat – air pollution, both outdoors and indoors. As researchers delve into the intricate relationship between nature exposure and environmental pollutants, they uncover a complex interplay shaping our health and happiness.

Exploring nature's impact on health and wellness

In a study titled "Associations between Nature Exposure and Health: A Review of the Evidence" by Marcia P. Jimenez et al., published in 2021, researchers delved into the relationship between nature and health. They explored the "biophilia hypothesis," suggesting humans have an innate affinity for nature, and two key theories — Attention Restoration Theory and Stress Reduction Theory — which explain how nature exposure may benefit health.

Attention Restoration Theory proposes that time spent in natural environments restores attention capacity depleted by modern life's mental fatigue, while Stress Reduction Theory suggests nature activates the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress and autonomic arousal. Additionally, proponents argue that green spaces provide children with opportunities for discovery, creativity and brain development.

The review encompassed recent literature from various health-related fields and geographic regions, focusing on studies from the past decade primarily in Western countries. Studies have consistently shown that individuals residing in areas with greater greenness experience lower incidence rates of cardiovascular disease and mortality following a stroke.

Similarly, access to green spaces has been linked with lower levels of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease mortality. Limited evidence suggests that green space could also serve as a preventive measure against type 2 diabetes, with some cross-sectional studies indicating an inverse relationship between green space and diabetes among adults.

Meta-analyses have provided evidence suggesting that exposure to natural environments reduces blood pressure levels, with physiological and psychological responses varying between real and simulated plant exposures.

Whisper Edwards / Gulf Coast Media
Whisper Edwards / Gulf Coast Media
Prescribing nature for health and happiness

In the realm of mental health, the influence of nature is undeniable, said Bailey Kennon, M.A., ALC, under the supervision of Jennifer Moseley, LPC-S.

"Absolutely, nature certainly has a great effect on mental health," Kennon told Gulf Coast Media. "I think probably the most clear example would be Seasonal Affective Disorder, which can stem from less sunlight and time outdoors due to cooler temperatures in fall/winter."

In a 2021 article featured on the University of California, Berkeley's website, Greater Good, Dr. Leif Hass goes beyond traditional medicine by prescribing remedies for both health and happiness. Hass emphasizes the importance of positive emotions, calmness, connection with others and appreciation of beauty for overall well-being.

Hass provides patients with a unique prescription sheet containing 10 items, one of which includes the directive to "go for a walk in a beautiful place." He highlights the therapeutic benefits of nature, noting that even brief experiences outdoors can have profound healing effects.

As Hass says in the article, "We all feel better after getting in nature, yet we underestimate the healing power of these experiences. Unfortunately, many of those I take care of have mobility issues and social circumstances that make this really hard to do. I always recommend "awe walks" for those who can do them or speak to patients and their family about finding some way to get to a place where nature can have its healing effects."

In addition to nature walks, Hass has handwritten prescriptions for activities like "watching a sunset," recognizing the importance of simple yet meaningful experiences in promoting health and happiness.

Numerous health benefits

In an article by Emily Swaim on, it's highlighted that spending time outdoors offers a plethora of health benefits, ranging from improved immune function to enhanced mental well-being.

According to the article, research indicates that dedicating just 120 minutes per week to nature-related activities can significantly boost overall health. Engaging in outdoor pursuits such as walking, gardening or picnicking not only promotes better breathing and sleep but also reduces symptoms of depression, increases motivation for exercise and provides mental rejuvenation from overstimulation. Exposure to sunlight may offer protection against myopia, contributing to emotional well-being.

It was also noted that while virtual nature experiences have some advantages, they cannot fully replicate the benefits of being outdoors.

Similarly, a 2023 article by Paul Frysh, with medical review by Zilpah Sheikh, MD, on WebMD echoes the sentiment that spending time outdoors yields numerous health benefits such as increased physical activity.
Additionally, the article states that morning outdoor exposure may aid in weight management by regulating energy utilization.

According to Kennon, there are even therapeutic benefits of grounding with bare feet in the sunlight.

"Additionally, grounding with our bare feet has shown to have wonderful effects for our bodies," she said. "This is something I try to do 5 minutes or so a day, and it's something that can be habit-stacked with getting sunlight in the mornings."

Grounding, also known as earthing, enables individuals to establish direct contact between their bodies and the Earth's surface, leveraging its natural electric charges for stability. Advocates claim that grounding barefoot can alleviate pain, diminish inflammation and enhance sleep quality. / Whisper Edwards, Gulf Coast Media

Acknowledging the role of biological clocks in health

An article on the National Institutes of Health News in Health website discusses the crucial role of our biological clocks in regulating our daily rhythms, synchronized with the sun. Governed by a "master clock" in the brain, these internal timekeepers orchestrate various bodily functions, including sleep-wake cycles, hormone production and metabolic processes. The master clock receives input from the eyes, adjusting hormone levels throughout the day to promote wakefulness or induce sleep, with the hormone melatonin playing a key role in promoting drowsiness at night.

Biological clocks, determined by specific genes, influence a wide range of bodily functions, from body temperature and blood pressure to mood and brain activity. Disruptions to these circadian rhythms, often encountered in modern society, can lead to health problems. For example, shift workers, whose schedules conflict with their internal clocks, face increased risks of various health issues due to disturbed sleep patterns and hormonal imbalances.

Kennon emphasized the importance of sunlight exposure in regulating circadian rhythms.

"Getting sunlight first thing in the morning is wonderful for our circadian rhythm, which then allows us to achieve a better sleep schedule," Kennon said. "I think sleep is something that cannot be underestimated for our mental and physical well-being."

Additionally, there have been research studies that show that sunlight can help people fight off viral infections such as influenza, among other benefits.

Understanding air pollution's impact on mental health

In a November 2023 article from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website, the significant yet often underestimated impact of outdoor and indoor air pollution on mental health is highlighted. Researchers shed light on PM2.5, tiny airborne dust particles capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and even entering the brain tissue directly, as a key factor in this relationship.

Studies reveal that both short-term and long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to decreased quality of life, heightened risk of depression, suicide ideation and increased anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, air pollution exposure is associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and autism, with children being especially vulnerable due to their ongoing brain development.

In addition to outdoor air pollution, the article emphasizes the often overlooked issue of indoor air quality (IAQ). Harmful pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from stoves and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from cleaning products, infiltrate indoor environments through various means such as open doors, windows, and household activities. Given that humans spend the majority of their time indoors, maintaining clean indoor air becomes paramount for preserving both physical and mental well-being.

Whisper Edwards / Gulf Coast Media
Whisper Edwards / Gulf Coast Media

Study links neurodegenerative diseases to environmental factors

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences website, the likelihood of developing neurodegenerative diseases increases significantly with age, a trend expected to impact more Americans as life expectancy rises. Urging a deeper understanding of the causes and development of these conditions, experts emphasize the importance of advancing treatment and prevention strategies.

Scientists highlight the interplay between genetics and environmental factors in neurodegenerative disease risk. For instance, while certain genetic predispositions may heighten susceptibility to conditions like Parkinson's disease, environmental exposures such as outdoor and indoor pollution mentioned above can influence the onset and severity of symptoms.

Exploring nature's role in neurodegenerative disease prevention

In a 2023 episode of the podcast "Environmental Health Chat" by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Dr. Jochem Klompmaker discussed the potential benefits of spending time in nature in slowing the progression of neurodegenerative diseases. Klompmaker, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, emphasized the increasing prevalence of neurological disorders due to lengthening life expectancies and the absence of cures for diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. He highlighted the importance of identifying modifiable risk factors, such as environmental exposures.

"We know that neurological disorders are one of the leading causes of disability and death worldwide. And due to lengthening of life expectancy, the prevalence of neurological diseases will likely continue to increase over the next decades," Klompmaker said. "And because there are no cures that exist for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, I think it's really important to identify modifiable risk factors, like environmental exposures.

"We found that greenness was associated with a decrease in Alzheimer's disease and related dementia hospitalizations after adjustment for potential confounders. So, increasing greenness levels could reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and related dementia hospitalizations."

Klompmaker continued, highlighting the multiple ways in which natural environments can positively impact health and emphasized the importance of policymakers considering interventions to increase access to green and blue spaces, potentially reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and related hospitalizations as global life expectancy rises.

Addressing park deserts and promoting nature's role in health

An article written in January 2020 by Jim Robbins, published at the Yale School of the Environment, highlights the growing concern over "park deserts" in urban areas, prompting efforts to enhance green and blue spaces in cities. Parks are being added or improved, and institutions are incorporating elements like large windows and access to trees to provide residents with outdoor experiences. Recognizing the importance of green spaces, businesses are catering to employees' desires for such environments, seeing it as essential for attracting a skilled workforce.

The article highlights a call to action amid the ongoing rise of urbanization. It emphasizes the importance of recognizing the cognitive and emotional benefits of nature within economic ecosystem service models. This growing awareness highlights the value of nature and the necessity of investing in green infrastructure to enhance the livability and sustainability of urban environments.

In contrast to common beliefs, the article also reveals that studies suggest abundant vegetation is linked to decreased rates of assault, robbery and burglary. This discovery challenges previous assumptions and emphasizes the diverse benefits of green spaces in urban settings.

In Baldwin County, despite rapid growth, a wealth of green and blue spaces exists, with many city and town leaders dedicated to preserving and expanding these areas. Numerous initiatives are underway to maintain the county's beauty reflecting community-driven efforts toward environmental stewardship and sustainability.

While acknowledging room for improvement, the proactive measures taken by local leaders, organizations and community members highlight the commitment to preserving Baldwin County's natural landscape, thus promoting physical and mental well-being.

Kennon emphasized the holistic nature of human well-being, highlighting the interconnectedness of emotional and physical health.

"I could go on, but I think the biggest thing I have seen as an associate licensed counselor is the fact that we often underestimate the fact we are holistic beings," she said. "A good emotional health will improve our physical health and vice versa."

Whisper Edwards / Gulf Coast Media
Whisper Edwards / Gulf Coast Media