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Let’s go outside: nature is this year’s leading wellness prescription

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You probably don’t need science to tell you that spending time outside in nature is good for you. You know it because, if you do it, you probably feel good, or happy, or well, or refreshed. That feeling you get when you’re by the sea isn’t just because your out of office is on. That sense of peace in a forest with the birds singing isn’t just because there’s no wifi. Being out in nature has a meaningful impact on wellbeing. So little wonder that nature is at the heart of many of this year’s wellness retreats…

“The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician”

Paracelsus, the 16th-century German-Swiss physician

Nature as medicine

While technology is amazing, empowering and liberating, one of the problems that has occurred in parallel with its advent is a disassociation from the natural world. What it’s highlighted, is that amongst our very clever developments, one thing is going amiss. It turns out our bodies, and our minds, need nature. Such is the volume of scientific information about the health benefits of nature, that it’s getting the attention of the medical profession, and in some instances nature is being heralded as a viable ‘medicine’.

In fact, it isn’t impossible to envisage that doctors are getting close to prescribing things like a 30 minute walk in the park over some more commonplace medicines for certain conditions. The data is fascinating because it seems to correlate with a range of conditions. For example, in 2009, a team of Dutch researchers found a lower incidence of 15 diseases, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and migraines, in people who lived within about a half mile of green space.

We’re all feeling disconnected from nature

Many of us live increasing distances from nature (in 1950 around 30% of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 2018, that number was 55%, and, by 2050, it will be 68%). The upshot is not only a decrease in the number of us experiencing the joys of nature, but it has also meant that the healing power of nature is not readily available for most people in the world.

Sadly, what that means is that not only are we not connected with nature, but we don’t even really know how to best reconnect with it and use it to support our wellbeing. In the States, forward-thinking practitioners have even created initiatives such as DC Park Rx, a community health initiative. Dr. Robert Zarr explains what he describes as ‘ecotherapy’: “We work with the doctors, nurses and health care providers around the country and show them why it’s so relevant to prescribe parks and how easy it is to do so that they can make it a part of their daily routine.”

Nature has always been there

The healing power of nature is anything but new, but it is being given new reverence as we all try to find more sustainable ways to look after our wellbeing. Last year we spoke a lot about Forest Bathing, for example, which was offered at spas including Spread Eagle Hotel and Spa, and Careys Manor Hotel and SenSpa.

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With research and scientific studies conducted in the mid-1980s in Japan, the power of trees and spending time in nature, continues to grow in interest and stature, now truly recognised as a healthful pursuit. As one walks in the forest, one is enveloped by the atmosphere—sounds, colours, scents and more, and the mindfulness that occurs, as a result, is a benefit as well.

Reconnecting with nature in our daily lives

So, if you live in a city, how can you bring these magical benefits into your life, and if you live close to nature, how can you make the most of it? In cities, there are increasing opportunities for working out outside - park runs, fitness classes and outdoor gyms for example. Some local institutions even experiment with innovative solutions such as bringing the outside in with plant life, and of course, never underestimate the power of a lunchtime walk. Even if you can only spare 15 minutes away from your desk.

That said, even for people who are close to nature, what is often cited as an issue is knowing how best to spend our time in it. What if we can’t turn that ‘monkey mind’ off and experience where we are? This is where dedicated spa breaks that give us tools for taking outdoor wellness home can really make a difference. Bathe in outdoor seaweed baths overlooking the sea at The Salthouse Spa in Ireland perhaps. Go Nordic walking at Living Well Spa at Homefield Grange. Or try reiki drumming by the campfire at the Swinton Estate.

However you do it, make this year the year you bring nature back into your life.


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