Protecting our planet can also promote a healthy brain. In celebration of Earth Day this month, the BHI is also celebrating ecotherapy. Research shows that ecotherapy—also known as green therapy or nature therapy—can improve our mood and ease anxiety, stress, and depression.
Ecotherapy connects our brain and body health to the Earth and its natural ecosystems. It suggests that activities related to nature—plants and animals—have positive effects on protecting brain health and decreasing risk factors for brain illness. For example, our interactions with our natural environment increase our sensory contact and mindfulness. Spending just 20 minutes in nature, without our cell phones and social media, reduces our levels of cortisol, often referred to as the stress hormone.
This may help explain why getting outside has been such an essential element for surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. Physical distancing and avoiding crowded spaces have been essential to preventing the spread of the virus, as well as a great source to boost our resilience and decrease our risk from stress and anxiety. Over the past year, many of us have turned to nature as a way to escape the confines of home. According to Harvard Health, getting out into nature is a prescription for better brain health with at least five potential benefits.
- Increased vitamin D levels
- Increased exercise
- Increased happiness
- Improved concentration
- Faster healing
We often think of green spaces when we talk about nature: those environments that include trees, grass, and flowers. But researchers are also recognizing the brain health benefits of blue spaces—being on or near the water—for reducing stress and creating a sense of calm and well-being. Living on Florida’s Suncoast, we have the advantage of enjoying green spaces and blue spaces year-round. In addition to outdoor spaces, our local communities do an excellent job of supporting activities and events that promote wellness. If you are interested in learning more, visit these sites:
- My Lakewood Ranch
- Manatee Parks and Natural Resources
- Friends of the Legacy Trail
- Sarasota Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources
There are many ways to protect our environment and support our brain health at the same time. The BHI suggests these activities, but we all have our own favorite outdoor activities. The key is finding something your entire family can enjoy and getting out there!
- Take a walk.
- Go bird watching.
- Look for seashells.
- Join a beach cleanup program.
- Visit a garden.
- Volunteer for an environmental nonprofit.
- Support and use recycling programs in your community.
- Volunteer to help at a local park.
- Start a neighborhood cleanup project.
- Ride your bike to work.
The Brain Health Initiative (BHI) is a cutting-edge approach to protecting brain health, promoting brain performance, and fighting brain illness across the lifespan. The BHI is creating brain healthy communities, cultures that foster brain health protective factors and address risk factors, thereby improving brain health and optimizing brain performance outcomes for the Florida Suncoast region and beyond. Join the BE BRAIN HEALTHY movement, because brain health matters, and lifestyle makes a difference.