I love my Sundays… It’s a free day for me, a day to not think about or do anything relating to business. If you know me, then you’ll know that this is an extreme challenge for me… I’m super passionate and love what I do, so it’s often hard to switch off.
In order to make sure I stay true to my ‘Free Day’ objective, I’ve had to institute some rituals and habits to keep me occupied.
One of my Sunday rituals is to get out into nature, regardless of the weather. I usually head to Gatineau Park to do a trail run, hike, snowshoe or simply head out cross-country and see what obstacles I can find (see the video below…:)
There’s the physical benefits of getting active outdoors that simply can’t be reproduced in a gym… But I would argue (as have many scientists) that the benefits go far beyond meeting your various movement requirements.
For me It’s a time to reflect and connect with my deeper self. I definitely experience a sort-of meditative state… The effect on my psychology and mental-emotional state dwarfs the physical benefits and has made my ’nature time’ one of the easiest rituals for me to maintain.
Think back to the last time you spent a couple of hours immersed in nature. I bet you felt calm, exhilarated, fortified, restored, still…
Thankfully there is much more than anecdotal evidence to support this – researchers from a variety of biological sciences have identified powerful effects resulting from spending time in nature:
- Improved memory performance and attention spans
- Boost in creativity
- Reduction in ADD/ADHD symptoms
- Reduction in Blood pressure
- Reduction in serum (blood) stress hormones
- Boosted cellular immunity
- Anti-cancer protection
The evidence has built to such an extent that Doctors are now beginning to prescribe a healthy dose of ‘vitamin N’ to their recommendations for a variety of conditions.
While I don’t agree with the concept of nature as a therapy or treatment for any particular condition, I like the analogy of nature as an essential requirement, much like true essential nutrients.
Why Getting Into Nature This Summer Isn’t Important… It’s Essential.
Like other animals, nature is our “default” environment. It’s what we’ve called ‘home’ for almost our entire existence (think millions of years) and it’s only in our very recent history (think couple hundred years) that we’ve started to significantly separate ourselves from this natural environment.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my central heating/AC, my comfy king size bed and the 17 different Apple devices I’m connected to 10 hours a day. The industrial and technological revolutions have made our lives immeasurably better and has more than doubled our life expectancy…
But these creature comforts don’t negate the fact that – for literally 99.98% of our entire existence as a species – we had to survive directly in nature. This is a super important point: Because of this survival pressure, our genetic make-up was literally forged in the context of surviving (with the ultimate goal of thriving) in our natural environment.
And just like we have a genetic requirement for getting 8-10hrs of sleep per night, consuming a diet of real food (high quality protein, fat and carbohydrates), having a clear brain-body connection, moving fast, lifting heavy things and having deep, meaningful relationships, our genes (and by extension, our physiology) literally have a requirement for time spent interacting with nature.
So… If optimum health is your goal, then spending time in nature is NOT optional. Its is an essential requirement for your brain (and therefore body) to function properly.
Regular immersion in nature is part of a ‘By Design’ lifestyle.
Here’s the challenge: Just like many nutrient deficiencies go unnoticed for years only to cause irreparable damage to your physiology, so can your deficiency for Vitamin N…
Nature deficiency is literally a matter of life and death. Although the effect is difficult to tease out, researchers believe that regular activity in nature (as an independent variable) can extend your life by up to 7 years!!
So let’s do some quick, back of the envelope math: Lets say I’m an average Canadian with a life expectancy of 81yrs. Let’s also assume that 3hrs/week is sufficient to satisfy my dose of Vitamin N. Over the course of my lifetime, this means: For every year that I fail to consistently meet my requirement for nature, I literally lose over a month of life. For every month I fail to satisfy this requirement, I will lose 2.5days.
For every week you choose NOT to immerse yourself in nature, you could be cutting your life short by 14hrs.
To frame this positively: Invest 3hrs of your life now for a gain of 14hrs in the future. I’m no economist, but that seems like a pretty good return on (time) investment to me… 🙂
And that says nothing about the improvement in quality of life, productivity and happiness that likely would be far more significant in this long term picture.
So my challenge to you is: For the month of July, commit to getting your weekly dose of Vitamin N. Get your family out of the city and spend at least 2hrs/week immersed in a completely natural environment.
To help you out, I’ll be sharing a bunch of my favorite local trails, from easy to challenging. Here in Ottawa we are fortunate to have some of the easiest access to nature of any Canadian city… There are literally 100’s of offical trails within an easy drive of Ottawa, along with a number of easily accessible parks and wildlife sanctuaries to explore.
Your future self will thank you!
To help you out, I’ll be sharing my favourite trails in and around Ottawa for you to explore, so stay tuned to our facebook page!
— Dr. John