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Many of us need a “nature prescription” these days. We spend far more time inside than outside when the benefits of returning to natural environments are inarguable. Have you noticed you can breathe easier and deeper when you go for a walk in the woods? Does your stress ease after gardening? Do your kids seem happier after playing outside? All these things amount to what might be called ecotherapy.  

What is Ecotherapy?  

Also called nature therapy, green exercise, or green therapy, “ecotherapy” refers to a therapeutic practice that focuses on our psychological responses to nature. It makes a connection between spending time outside and our mental states. We’ve all felt some aspect of this – whether it’s dancing in the rain, the feeling of getting deep into the woods, or simply smelling the roses. When you surround yourself with the sounds and smells of nature, you may suddenly realize your mind is quieter. Getting away from the electronics and pavement of our modern society, we realize we can sleep better. Ecotherapy is the name given to nature-based therapy and physical activity.  

Mental health is physical health  

Here at The Wellness Way, we recognize that dis-ease comes from chronic inflammation. Inflammation comes from any combination of traumas, toxins, and thoughts. “Thoughts” refers to what most of us understand “stress” to mean – those mental patterns and habits that create worry, panic, or a chronic feeling of uneasiness. Studies show mental stress notably impacts physical health, so it’s essential not to shrug it off as unimportant – dealing with stress in a healthy way is crucial to your physical health. [1]  

Step Away From the Screens  

One thing our modern world does very well is providing input. Whether it’s the screens that most of us carry in our purses or pockets all day or the news constantly blaring, it’s easy to fill your mind with noise and bring the world’s stresses into your own little bubble. 

When you can clear your mind of stresses and quiet it, you can focus on what’s actually important in your life, and your physical health will also benefit. Making it a point to step away from a screen, separate ourselves from modernity, and return to nature is a great way to do that. As you continue reading this article, it’s important to remember that keeping your phone close and allowing distractions to draw your attention can hinder the effectiveness of the steps you are about to take.

Cell phones have been shown to increase anxiety, stress, and depression, and cause sleep deficit. [2] We need to learn to be without screens, so let this be a practice run.

Benefits of Ecotherapy  

Many evidence-based studies have been done on ecotherapy, showing several benefits for mental health and human health in general.  

  • Resilience – A study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) attests to ecotherapy’s positive effects on medical recovery and pain reduction. It also benefits mental health, specifically individuals with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dementia, and obesity. Due to its anti-stress effects, it may also lower the risk of coronary heart disease and support substance abuse therapies. [3]  
  • Nervous system – A study published on PubMed found that, while the sympathetic nervous system is more affected by visual stimuli than auditory when recovering, the sounds of nature helped it recover faster than urban sounds. [4] This is similar to previous studies on whether natural vs. urban visual stimuli helps the parasympathetic nervous system recover quicker. Here, too, natural views win. [5] [6]  
  • Emotional well-being – A study by the University of Essex and published in Mind goes over key areas of benefit from ecotherapy. Sixty-nine percent of people experienced notable increases in well-being by the time the study was over. Fifty-seven percent felt like more people cared about them and met with their friends more regularly. Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, noted that ecotherapy improves mental well-being and gives wider social benefits than medication. It also helps people who are socially isolated or lonely broaden their networks and make more connections. [7]  
  • Coping skills – A 2008 study published on PubMed records that animal-assisted therapy with farm animals showed a notable improvement in self-efficacy and coping ability in adults with psychiatric diagnoses. [8] These diagnoses included schizophrenia, affective disorders, anxiety, and personality disorders.  
  • Self-esteem and interpersonal skills – PubMed also documents a study showing ecotherapy helped self-esteem issues, school success, anger management, adolescent behavior, and more. They report that a 2-week wilderness camp helped improve community-level coping skills of chronically mentally ill patients. Adventure therapy for ten days enhanced hearing-impaired individuals’ self-concept and locus of control. They also report that outdoor therapy helped improve adjustment to brain injury. According to the Journal Frontiers in Psychology, ecotherapy enhanced family functionality and well-being, adolescent attachment, and chemical dependency. [3] 

These are just a few ways ecotherapy can help mental well-being, resulting in improved overall mental and physical health.  

Why is Ecotherapy Therapeutic?  

When taking part in ecotherapy, you’re getting the numerous benefits of immersing yourself in the great outdoors and connecting with nature. Vitamin D, which you can best get from the sun, is required for many bodily processes, including building healthy bones and maintaining a positive mood. We know the value of clean air, but what most of us don’t know is that inside air generally has 2 to 5 times the pollutants of outside air. [9]  

There is also the benefit of grounding – connecting to the earth by walking barefoot on grass or sand or just sitting in a green space with your hands, bare feet, or legs on the ground. The earth is full of energy and electrons our bodies can use to return to homeostasis. Grounding has also been shown to lower pain and inflammation, reduce stress, help you sleep, and more. [10] [11] [12]  

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of getting outside. When you make a point to engage in ecotherapy, you are receiving all these benefits, as well as those listed above. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of spending time outdoors! [13] [14] 

Ways to Engage in Ecotherapy  

Now that we’ve determined how good ecotherapy is for you, you may wonder how and where to start. The good news is, while there are many ecotherapy programs, ecotherapists, and the like, ecotherapy doesn’t have to be anything significant– just getting outside. Ecotherapy is, in essence, a nature-based stress reliever. An ecotherapy session doesn’t have to be fancy or have a dedicated health professional — just being outside and releasing stress is the goal. A study in Nature advises you to get outside for 2 hours a week. It doesn’t matter if you break those two hours up throughout the week or if they happen in one block. [15] We recommend spacing out your outdoor activities, if only to prevent sunburn.  

Here are a few suggestions on outdoor activities you can do to get started on your nature therapy journey:    

  • Gardening – Sometimes called “horticultural therapy,” gardening is a great one to do on your own or with littles! After all, muddy kids are healthier than kids kept super clean. You can plant in your own backyard, community gardens, or in garden boxes.  
  • Camping – This one will take a bit more planning, but it’s one of the best ways to create an outdoor adventure for the whole family. (And there’s less stress on everyone when travel snacks are healthy, too!) Camping also provides a longer time in nature and the opportunity for wilderness therapy or forest therapy, which only helps elevate all the benefits listed above!  
  • Visit a beach – There’s a reason Doc loves Hawaii and Florida – Spending time on the beach has all sorts of health benefits!   
  • Go for a hike and talk with those you love – There are multiple benefits to walking with those you love. It gets you moving and breathing in the fresh air. Researchers have also found it to help relationships psychologically. [16] Go for a walk with those you love to get the benefits of ecotherapy and relationally-focused talk therapy!  
  • Biking/rollerblading/boarding -What is it about having wheels under you that we all seem to love? Whether biking, boarding, rollerblading, or even driving, we all find wheels more fun than walking. Use these as fun ways to get you and your family out and moving. And if a few tumbles happen, that’s okay! Scrapes and scratches are normal. Just be sure to get your spine checked out by a chiropractor so jolts or jars don’t create chronic, hidden inflammation.  
  • Adventuring – who doesn’t love a good adventure? Embrace the thrill of accomplishment and the mental stretch of something new. Try rock climbing, rafting, or parkour and free running. Explore the natural world at a park. Try a new sport or one you haven’t attempted in a while. Get some cheap frisbees and try out a disc golf course – being sure to remember not to take it too seriously and be able to laugh at yourself. Laughter, too, is excellent for your health! 

Don’t Wait!  

Ecotherapy is a fun and very effective therapy. It’s also free and has no side effects other than getting some color in your cheeks. Get outside and into the fresh air to claim all the health benefits and support yourself on your health restoration journey! Sign up for our newsletter for more lifestyle tips delivered directly to your inbox! 


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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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