Green Exercise For A Healthier Life: Outdoor Addiction Recovery

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We’ve known for generations that there is something magical about being outside in the natural world. Victorian poets waxed lyrical about the restorative powers of earth and sky, trees and water. However, studies suggest that the benefits of nature go beyond a sense of peace and tranquility and into the realms of measurable medical science. Working out in the great outdoors is good for mind and body alike, and it can be especially helpful for people struggling through addiction recovery.

A Natural Approach

In a 1998 study of alcoholics in recovery, participants who engaged in physical activity in an outdoor setting were twenty percent less likely to relapse than the control group. They reported lower cravings and reduced negative thought patterns, as well as a better, more optimistic mood. The Biophilia hypothesis suggests that we are adapted to perform optimally in natural settings, and access to green space, sunlight, fresh air, and flowing water enhances physical and mental health. Some scientists go so far as to theorize that our modern way of life predisposes us to social fragmentation and dislocation, and that addiction becomes a coping mechanism for individuals experiencing such suffering. To address the root causes of dysfunctional behavior requires reconnection with the natural world and with living things and beings.

Bathe In Good Health

The Japanese even have a name for this phenomenon: shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, in which participants enjoy half-hour nature walks, hikes, yoga, and meditation in nature. Over the last fifteen years, the Japanese government has spent $4 million researching its benefits. Their studies show that it produces a decrease in stress-related hormones and blood pressure, as well as elevated levels of mood. Additional research shows that the forest’s trees release phytonicides that, when inhaled, improve immune function in killer T-cells. These effects can linger for months following a session, and the government has facilitated the creation of specific therapy trails for use as a medical treatment. Studies in the UK indicate that time spent in the outdoors has an immunizing effect against future stress, and that simply living near a natural environment extends your lifespan by about seven years. Increasingly, hospitals and medical centers are adding green space and nature therapy to their patient regimens.

Good For The Body And For The Mind

Other studies have focused on the healthful aspects of exercise in the great outdoors. Green exercise, such as nature walking, horseback riding, cycling, and fishing can improve people’s moods and levels of self esteem in as little as five minutes. The presence of water, such as a pond or stream, increased these effects, whether the location was a park, forest, or even a suburban garden. Participants were sorted by age and health condition, and remarkably, those suffering from mental illness reported the strongest impacts: enhanced self esteem and decreased levels of depression. Taking your exercise in an outdoor environment may be the best way to maximize your benefits for physical and mental wellness. The normal health-boosting results of regular physical exercise, when coupled with the emotional and mental benefits of natural outdoor environments, can increase the health-giving properties of both, improving the efficacy of your rehabilitative therapy regimen.

Outdoor adventure therapies and wilderness retreats are becoming more popular with many doctor and rehab centers specializing in addiction recovery. Participants learn teamwork, trust, and vital life skills in a safe environment while strengthening their bodies and minds with healthy exercise. When coupled with a strong traditional approach that incorporates nutrition therapy, behavioral therapy, and counseling, these alternative treatments can aid patients in returning to a healthy, sober lifestyle.

Michelle Peterson Recoverypride.org

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