Stress wreaks havoc in our lives and can trigger illnesses ranging from ulcers to heart disease -- but stress can also threaten brain health and increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Stress accelerates brain aging, affects memory and processing speed. The stress hormone cortisol can kill brain cells and shrink the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for long-term memory and spatial navigation.
Swedish researchers report that midlife women who experienced frequent stress have a 65% increased risk for Alzheimer’s Disease than their stress-free counterparts.
And who, in today’s screen-driven, multi-tasking world doesn’t experience frequent stress?
Fear not. There’s a super-simple, free, fast way to squash that daily stress. It doesn’t require sweating, herbal remedies, pretzel-like poses or learning Tibetan chants.
Here it is. Spend 20 minutes each day in nature.
Yep, that’s it. Simple. And you don’t have to live in the country to do this. It’s as simple as finding a landscaped patio or a neighborhood park.
Woodland or forest settings are best, but if that’s not a local option, find a garden, lake, beach, desert, mountain. Use whatever natural environment is nearby, easily assessible and makes you feel good.
And, do what? Nothing. Just sit, observe, breath, smile, relax. Or, opt for a gentle stroll or non-aerobic activity. Don’t dare pull that phone out of your pocket. No phone calls, internet surfing, social media or reading. Just be present. Enjoy the moment. The Japanese call this ‘forest bathing’ or shinrin yoku.
On average, we spend just 5% of our day outside. No wonder we’re stressed.
Within the first five minutes of being in nature, we experience immediate benefits. Our heart rate slows, our muscles start to relax, and the regions of our brain involved in decision-making and emotions begin to quiet.
Sitting or gentle walking 20 minutes in nature have shown in multiple medical studies to significantly lower blood pressure and pulse rate, increase heart-rate variability (that’s a good thing), improve immune response, and significantly lower the stress hormone cortisol.
Spend a bit more time in a nature experience, 20 to 30 minutes, and cortisol levels will drop at their greatest rate.
After 30 minutes, additional de-stressing benefits continue to add up, but at a slower rate.
What a simple prescription -- a 20-minute ‘Nature Pill’ a day, in an outdoor setting, doing little to nothing. It’s hard to imagine a more pleasant way to preserve overall health and retain your brain.
Well, maybe there is. Add a big mug of brain-healthy coffee and invite that stress-relieving pup to come along -- that's a ‘triple dose’ of brain health protection!
Sources for research nerds and naysayers:
DISCLAIMER: This information provided is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. This information is to be used at your own risk based on your own judgement. See complete disclaimer.
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