The Best Things in Life Are Free: Nature's Tools for a Mental & Physical Boost
Are you looking for a boost in your energy? How about a shift in your mindset? Wanting to do something positive for your health but feel overwhelmed at the thought of jumping into a major change or challenge?
Well, you’re in luck. Here I will lay out some of the top therapeutic tools that benefit both your mind and body. And, just as the old phrase states, “the best things in life are free,” each of these tools are completely free!
Natural ways to improve health with type 2 diabetes
Moving your body, getting outdoors, breathing in fresh air, and soaking up some sunshine are some of the most powerful yet simple strategies for mental and physical health. And, one major bonus that is found in each of these is the immune-boosting effect.1
In a world where we are now more concerned about immune function than ever, especially for individuals with diabetes who constantly hear they are at “high risk,” these strategies are a major advantage. Make a small change towards reducing risks and boosting immunity with these tools.
Move your body
Most people in today’s world associate physical activity with weight loss. As a mental health provider though, physical activity is one of the most powerful tools in my toolbox. It is a game-changer for mental health, energy, and positivity. The benefits of exercise are far too lengthy to write about here, though I encourage you to do your own research. But here are some points to consider:
Our bodies and our genes actually expect us to be active.2 When we are active we tap into feelings of joy and meaning. Just going for a walk can have a profound impact on your mental health.
Physical activity literally changes the structure of your brain and makes you more resilient to stress.1 What’s more, is that movement enhances your brain’s capacity to experience pleasure, which means that you are better able to enjoy relationships, food, experiences, etc.2
Don’t get hung up on the idea of “exercise.” Just focus on moving your body in any way that feels right and enjoyable to you. When it comes to activity, something is better than nothing. This is a great way to “get your juices flowing” or shake off a stressful conversation or tough day.
The average person spends a remarkable amount of time indoors, often secluded from even the view of nature. This could be putting you at a real disadvantage.
There is now incredible research that shows powerful benefits of “nature exposure” and “forest bathing” - terms used to describe being immersed in or in the presence of nature. Again, the data is too complex to lay out here, though it is totally mind-boggling. But here are some key takeaways:
Major benefits include improvements in mood, mindfulness, energy, ability to focus, stress management, coping abilities, blood pressure, sleep, and immune-system functioning.1 And, nature exposure can lower stress hormones and reduce your risk of anxiety and depression.
Plus, being outdoors helps to create a disconnect from daily demands; it is a physical and mental break in your current environment. This comes in handy when you need to escape a stressful situation and gain a new perspective on things.
Breathe in fresh air
Being outdoors has even more benefits when it comes to the fresh air and sunshine that come along with it. Think back to a time when you were outdoors and closed your eyes and breathed in deeply; this small act can be more powerful than you may think.
According to Perlmutter and Perlmutter, “research has linked the sense of smell to immune function and even mood, cognition, and social behavior. Plant fragrances possess healing qualities in and of themselves”.1 It encourages you to breathe more deeply, meaning you get more oxygen to the brain and think more clearly, so you’re better able to tackle stressors.
So, think about ways you can add more nature to your day. This could be an outdoor walk, having your lunch outdoors, or even placing fresh flowers on your desk.
Soak up some sunshine
There’s nothing quite like that feeling of sunshine warming your skin. It is comforting and energizing. Plus, sunlight tends to promote positivity.
Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, an essential nutrient that has many important functions.3 Plus, vitamin D and exposure to sunlight have a positive impact on your circadian rhythm, which helps you to stay on a healthy sleep cycle.
Many people, especially those who struggle with depression, are deficient in vitamin D.4 Aim to get at least 15 minutes of direct sunlight per day, or 30 minutes several times per week. During the winter months this can be tough. While supplements are an option and you do get some vitamin D from certain foods, getting it straight from nature’s source in responsible doses is best.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, sleep apnea, RLS) in addition to your diabetes?