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Healthy Life


Nature, It’s What the Doctor Ordered

As science unveils concrete benefits of spending time outdoors, docs urge people to get outside.

When you’re sitting at the beach with the sun warming your back and the ocean’s waves lulling you into a state of pure bliss, it’s not just your mood that’s being elevated. Forces in nature are conspiring to promote healing on every level.

That’s why medical professionals, like local holistic doctor Svetlana Kogan, have started writing actual scripts for time spent outdoors. “When you go out into nature, you’re clearing all the clutter and noise from your nervous system,” she says. “You’re going to have better blood pressure, better blood sugar, less inflammation and a lower chance of cancer in the long run.”

Hippocrates called it long ago when he said “walking is the best medicine.” Now, people are taking the advice to heart, thanks to an increased interest in holistic medicine, naturopathy (using the elements as medicine) and efforts such as ParkRx, which encourages doctors to prescribe time outdoors.

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The practice is on the rise across the nation under the leadership of the Institute at the Golden Gate, in San Francisco. Locally, Kogan says, it’s already a way of life. But it’s getting even easier for Southwest Floridians to get outside as green spaces become more abundant. “The movement is here,” Kogan says, adding that a visit to Delnor-Wiggins or a lunch break walk around Baker Park are easy ways for locals to get a dose of natural healing without having to venture far. 

The results are more than anecdotal. Studies have shown that exposure to flora and fauna can help to relax the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls decision making and social behaviors). As little as five minutes of exposure can improve your mood, lower blood pressure and reduce stress. Consider taking your dog for a longer walk in the mornings. Researchers say that exposure to sunlight early in the morning can improve sleep and energy levels and help to prevent nearsightedness. Plus, the sun functions as a reliable source of vitamin D. The mechanics of how it all works are still being figured out, but the results are undeniable.

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Kogan thinks about one patient who has particularly benefitted from spending more time in nature. The woman came to her with severe, chronic pain resulting from a complicated case of neuropathy—nerve damage. Many doctors had tried to treat the pain, switching and stacking medications, to no avail. Kogan, instead, revamped the patient’s diet and prescribed morning yoga and stretching outdoors. “We’ve seen a huge improvement,” Kogan says. “She’s in less pain now and we got her off all of those toxic meds.”

Others are joining the movement locally. The Alzheimer’s Support Network partners with the Naples Botanical Garden to bring patients into the garden to foster healthy cognitive function, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary offers guided meditations in its lush grounds and projects like Blue Zones encourage people to get outside. So go ahead and try Mother Nature’s remedies—just don’t forget your sunscreen.