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Research shows nature is a ‘have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function’

Rebekah Strain stands in the middle in a blue shirt and hiking backpack with another girl on her right wearing a dark blue shirt and hiking backback with green trees, mountains and the ocean behind them.

BYU–Hawaii professors, Rebekah Strain and Ann Springer, say nature provides for them a much-needed escape from life’s distractions. Reconnecting with nature and viewing the world from the top of a mountain, Strain said, helps her to see problems from a new perspective and has given her peace, solace and healing.

Health benefits

According to a CNN article, “Doctors are prescribing nature to patients in the U.K.’s Shetland Islands,” the National Health Service of the Shetland Islands. Doctors are giving “nature prescriptions” to patients with high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.

CNN reported research has proven being in nature can treat depression, reduce stress, improve blood pressure, and enhance creative and cognitive abilities.

Strain, an adjunct faculty of the Faculty of Religious Education, added science is finding a lot of physical and mental benefits to hiking.

Strain shared, “Nature and physical exercise are good for mind and body. I can personally attest to the benefits that come from hiking. I sleep better. I handle anxiety better. In general, I feel healthier.”

According to an article by WedMD, titled, “How Hiking Is Good for Body and Mind,” hiking is a powerful cardio workout that can lower risk of heart disease, improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and boost mood.

Hiking also strengthens human muscles and core, improves balance and helps control weight. It also boosts bone density, since walking is a weight-bearing exercise, according to WebMD.

Gregory A. Miller, PhD, president of the American Hiking Society, said in the article, “Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA, and we sometimes forget that.”

Reconnecting and healing

Ann Springer, an assistant professor of the Faculty of Business & Government, said escaping into nature has saved her sanity many times. She said she uses hiking as a way to reconnect with nature and see problems through a bigger picture.

During her college years in Provo, Utah, Strain said she often went running and hiking in the mountains and canyons close to campus. She explained it was her way of escaping the stress of college. “I have always found peace, solace and healing in nature,” Strain explained.

The Yale School of the Environment published an article titled, “Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health.” The article says research also shows exposure to nature decreases stress and speeds up the healing process.

The article reports that policymakers, employers and healthcare providers are progressively contemplating the human need for nature and how to apply it in their operations. It reads, “Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.”

Strain said hiking helped her to better discover herself. When she is having a hard time, she goes for a hike, she commented, because being alone in nature gives her time to do some serious self-examination. “Nature opens me up to seeing the bigger picture.”

Strain explained it is easy to get buried in the problems of the moment, but standing on a mountain top helps her put her problems into perspective. “I reflect on God’s plan and my place in it. Usually, I come to realize that my small moment of crisis is only a speck in God’s great plan for me.

“I can compare my crisis to that muddy, steep spot I just trudged through on the trail. It was hard. It was messy. But it was only a small part of a grand journey with an amazingly stunning destination.”

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I can compare my crisis to that muddy, steep spot I just trudged through on the trail. It was hard. It was messy. But it was only a small part of a grand journey with an amazingly stunning destination.
Rebekah Kay Strain
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