Improving Your Brain Health
Chronic high levels of stress will raise your blood pressure, increase muscle tension and flood your body with feelings of anger, anxiety, dread and fear. High levels of stress have also been proven to increase inflammation in the brain and lead to numerous diseases including dementia.
As a caregiver, daughter, son or spouse of a senior loved one, your brain and your body need a regular outlet to counteract the stress in your day to day life. You can’t outright avoid all forms of stress, but there needs to be some relief.
Read our tips below on how to improve your brain health by getting outdoors.
The Mental Benefits of Getting Outdoors
Your brains need a break. You spend most of your day filtering, processing and responding to stimulation. This constant demand on your mental reserves needs to be relieved.
Nature provides the space for your brain to restore. It is in our genetic programming for nature to activate the part of our brain responsible for empathy and love, so nature makes you a nicer person.
Studies have shown that spending time outdoors will:
- Increase feelings of contentment.
- Reduce depression.
- Reduce feelings of anger.
- Slow down anxiety.
Focusing on what is around you allows your brain to see what is, instead of the “what ifs” that often make anxiety and depression worse. A study by the University of Chicago found that people in neighborhoods green space and with trees reported a better ability to cope with life’s demands and stresses.
The Physical Benefits of Getting Outdoors
Spending regular time in green spaces or outdoors in nature has been shown to be positive for your physical health. The University of Minnesota reports that time spent outside impacts your endocrine, immune and nervous system.
When you are spending time in nature (or even just looking at nature scenes) your blood pressure lowers and the tension in your muscles is released.
Other benefits include:
- Healthier sleep: Better sleep is central to good brain health. Stepping out of your door (or even sitting by a window) can help to regulate your circadian rhythms and improve your ability to fall and stay asleep. This is most likely caused by exposure to sunlight.
- Improved eyesight: Natural settings also are beneficial for your eyesight. Spending time indoors and looking at screens limits the exercise your eyes get. Your eye muscles will be both relaxed and strengthened when you are able to focus on objects far away. Outside you might look across a landscape, look up to clouds or stretch to the top of a tree. You naturally alternate between looking at objects close by and far away.
- Less pain: A study conducted by Robert Ulrich looked at patients in the hospital who had gallbladder surgery. The patients who recovered in a room with a window looking out at trees reported less pain and were out of the hospital quicker. There is a logic behind the tradition of bringing flowers and plants to those in the hospital.
Next time you feel a headache coming on, are feeling run down or a parent or senior loved one is complaining of achy joints, try a dose of green nature therapy.
Taking Advantage of the Benefits of Nature
Getting outdoors is a necessary and proven way to improve your overall health, but we need to make time for nature in our everyday lives and schedules.
The first thing to do is to be aware of how important it is to interact with nature. Even if it is just for five minutes at a time. Look at your daily, weekly and monthly schedule and plan for how you can incorporate little bits of the outdoors into your life.
1. Go outdoors.
If you and your parents or senior loved ones are physically able, make a plan to go out each day (or week). Go for a walk in a local park. Find an empty soccer field and just walk slowly around the field looking at the green contrasting with the buildings and sky. Or, ride your bike around a green space.
2. Purchase a plant.
If it is difficult to get outdoors, you can bring nature’s benefits indoors. Indoor plants have been shown to reduce anxiety and stress. Whenever you can, try to also sit by a window looking out to nature.
3. Spend time with a pet.
Animals in nature and pets are also important parts of how the outdoors strengthens your brain and reduces stress. Spend time stroking a pet, or set up a bird feeder and watch the birds fly.
4. Take a look at painting and photos.
Even looking at paintings and photographs of nature scenes can be beneficial. Constant stress will harm your brain health, but you can take advantage of nature’s answer to stress. Spend some time breathing in the breeze, marveling the flow of water or watching the clouds. See if a bit of that mental load is released and your brain feels healthier and stronger.