Natural Healing: How Nature Boosts Health


By Grace Rubenstein  |  

Step into a dappled glade. Inhale the fresh, piney air. Gaze up through the branches and feel your tension melt away. Researchers already know that a walk in the woods has measurable benefits for the brain and body. But a recent study by scientists in Zhejiang Province, China, goes further, finding that time spent in the wild may actually prevent disease.

Researchers sent 10 young men on a two-day trip to the lush Wuchao Mountain forest; another 10 went to a nearby city. The groups stayed in comparable hotels, ate the same meals, and walked outside for about three hours each day. In the end, the forest group had lower levels of natural chemicals that promote high blood pressure and inflammation, less evidence of oxidative stress (the unchecked activity of free radicals), and more white blood cells linked to immunity. They also reported feeling less anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue, and having more vigor, than the less fortunate urban group.

Natural Healer

Studies suggest yoga can ease depression and other mental ills. Happy practitioners are often quick to recommend yoga as a gentle way to calm nerves, clear the mind, and lift dragging spirits. Could yoga’s powerful soothing effects also help to treat people suffering from serious mental illness?

P. Murali Doraiswamy, a Duke University psychiatry professor, found intriguing evidence that it can. A research review published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry indicated that yoga may help relieve depression—in some cases without the need for antidepressant drugs—and suggested that yoga, when combined with medication, could benefit people suffering from other disorders, as well.

The big message, says Doraiswamy, is that mental health researchers should take a deeper look at yoga. “We need megastudies of the kind that are done with prescription drugs if we want to really put yoga on the map as a treatment modality,” he said. “That’s what would make doctors want to prescribe yoga.”

Sleep Advice

Eight is the maximum hours of sleep you should get in a 24-hour period to maintain good heart health. It’s not just getting too little sleep that’s bad for you: Snoozing too much can raise your risk of stroke, congestive heart failure, and heart attack, say researchers from Chicago Medical School.