For many of us urban livers, nature is one of those things we escape to every now and then, to “get away.” But according to Naturopathic Medical Doctor Alan Christianson, nature is as vital to us as water.
“Just being engaged in outdoor settings and being a part of that,” says Christianson. “Our brain waits for those types of visual cues, for those environments to feel safe and to feel secure.”
On the other hand, our urban lifestyles are making us less healthy, and even fat. And it’s not just from eating junk food.
“In a fight-or-flight mode, we are pulling things into our bloodstream, and we’ve got to store a lot of that, our bodies do not feel safe,” he says. “We use some of that same stuff for hibernation, for famine also, and just trauma and crisis. Many stressors that we think of are obvious things: You’ve got the nasty boss or the guy who cut you off in traffic, but a lot of them are insidious. A lot of them are invisible pollutants or ways in which we’re under lights that are not quite the same as the sun. They make us go in this same storage mode, this same stress mode, and it is a part of the fight-or-flight response.”
So, the closer to nature you are – without the artificial lighting and angry boss – the less your body will feel like it’s under attack or that it needs to hibernate for winter, both of which will cause it to store fat. Plus when your body is out of balance from absorbing fluorescent lights all day, “hibernation mode” will also make you tired.
“They’ve done studies on runners who are in the woods versus runners on treadmills in gyms, and the way you move your body of course is the same, but the neurochemical response is measurably different,” Christianson says. “You can push yourself into this heightened state of stress and trauma, and a very different cortisol curve, by doing the same exact activity outside versus inside. I would encourage someone who’s sedentary that moving in any way is good and any step is helpful, but our bodies do need [nature]. It’s measurable that we have to be in these environments to really thrive and be at our best.”