What if there was one thing you could do every day to lower your stress level, boost your immune system, sleep better, and improve your blood pressure? Even better, it doesn't involve any strenuous exercise or fancy diet... you just have to sit.
Longtime readers might think I'm talking about meditation. And while I love to say a few "oms," this is another health tip that many people overlook.
I'll get to this tip in a moment. First, I want to explain why it's more important now than ever before...
Over the past few months, we've highlighted the growing number of mental health concerns this year. The increased stress of the pandemic has increased the number of folks experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
But a new study has given us more insight on why we feel anxious... and it has to do with something we need to protect during this pandemic.
Recently published in Nature Immunology, the study shows a deep connection between our immune cells and our feelings of anxiety and the resulting anxious behaviors.
The researchers found a certain immune molecule called IL-17 not only works with our immune system, but directly affects our levels of anxiety.
The researchers ran a series of experiments on mice. They found that the immune responses and behavioral responses interact. For instance, when we encounter something that could make us sick, both our immune system and our brains react – we're more likely to avoid the situation, take more precautions, and change our behaviors to reduce the risk of getting infected. At the same time, our immune system gears up to fight any would-be intruder.
They looked at -17… Without getting too technical, the main takeaway is that our immune systems not only protect us from harmful bacteria and viruses, but also from feelings of anxiety. The immune-anxiety connection is strong. Just as you feel more anxious when you're sick, struggling with an anxiety disorder is actually an immune problem.
But there's one simple thing you can do to reset this connection – the health tip I mentioned earlier. It's a perfect "multivitamin" that will boost our immune responses, lower our stress and anxiety levels, and feel happier.
All it takes is stepping outside your door.
Dr. Ming Kuo of the University of Illinois has the best prescription I've heard: "Nature doesn't just have one or two active ingredients. It's more like a multivitamin that provides us with all sorts of the nutrients we need."
Dr. Kuo has spent time researching just how time spent outdoors can provide so many health benefits. Time outdoors reduces risks for diseases like diabetes, cancer, and attention difficulties. She believes the connection lies in the immune system. The more time we spend outside, the better our immune system.
And it looks like more evidence backs her up.
A paper in Frontiers in Psychology earlier this year looked at the effects of nature on our mental and physical state. The researchers analyzed 14 papers and found the following:
10 to 30 minutes of sitting outside or walking outside:
- Lowered heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol
- Positive scores on mood diagnostics
- More feelings of calmness and restoration
One study out of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found an inverse relationship between spending more time in "green space" areas and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. People who spent more time in local gardens or parks reported fewer mental health symptoms.
And a study from the Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture looked at folks who gardened and those who worked indoors. They found gardeners had significantly lower levels of cortisol. Remember, cortisol is our stress hormone, so higher levels mean more stress and more damaging inflammation.
Spending extended time outside also helps improve our sleep patterns. Exposure to natural light promotes better, deeper sleep. Especially as we experience shorter daylight hours in the fall and winter.
It's one of the reasons I love gardening. I also spend time walking outdoors every day. It's a great combination of benefits: I get to move more, get vitamin D from the sun, and soak up the calming effects of nature.
Make it a priority to spend more time outside. Even 10 minutes spent sitting in the sunshine in your garden will provide you with a host of benefits.
What We're Reading...
- More on that mouse study.
- Something different: Well, that's a bus-sized sigh of relief.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
October 13, 2020