By Ginny Gabel, RN, Community Wellness Education, Tillamook Regional Medical Center
Fog was settling all over the town, dark, thick and overwhelming, making the street lights barely visible. Voices without faces were calling out in alarm and sounds of people crashing into garbage cans for lack of visibility were heard from everywhere. It was 4 pm and should have been light enough to see but for the fog, the thick heavy fog. London was used to the fog, but this time after 5 days of absolute darkness people were in a panic. This was the Great Smog of London in 1952. A period of cold weather combined with absolutely windless conditions caused by an inversion of air. Pollutants mainly from coal particles formed a thick layer of smog trapping the city of London in the worse smog ever known. Over 12,000 people died and 200,000 were ill with respiratory problems in those 5 days. Fresh air was unavailable until the weather changed.

Fresh air offers a great benefit to our health. Congested city environments, which increase the amount of foul air, doubles the risk of heart attacks. While those who live by bodies of water, like the ocean with its spray, running rivers, and even by a still lake enjoy the mood elevating effect. Outdoor environments around bodies of water and trees like evergreen and cedar have more negatively charged ions which is good. Ocean air from the mid-Pacific contains about 15,000 particles per cubic inch. In contrast, air from large cities can contain 5,000,000 particles per cubic inch. Ions are tiny, electrified particles of matter. Ionization along with oxygen and the absence of pollutants help to make “fresh “air. Fresh air may contain as many as 5 – 10 times more negative ions than stale air. Negatively charged air has been shown to kill germs, decrease the survival of airborne bacteria and viruses, vitalize the blood and slow tumor growth. While positively charged air results in fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and nausea.

GET OUTSIDE- Did you know staying inside is hazardous to your health? Indoor air is 2- 5 times more polluted than outside air. Dust and toxic gases are given off by the furniture, carpets, drapes in your home along with the paint and cleaning supplies used. Fumes from these compounds are linked to asthma, central nervous damage and some cancers. You can however, improve the ventilation, remove the offender and use an air cleaning machine. One live plant like a palm or a fern can purify 90% of the toxic chemicals in the air of an average room.

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. John Lubbock

Fresh air is also dependent on trees. Trees draw particulates, ozone and pollutants from the air into their leaves cleaning the air. The University of Chicago studied the number of trees in Toronto Canada and found a relationship to public health. Their study showed that planting ten trees per city block were related to 1% increase in a person’s health. People living on those blocks suffered less from obesity and hypertension as compared to neighborhoods with fewer trees and had the same health impact as being 7 years younger.

People living in a neighborhood with less than 10% tree canopy were much more likely to have symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety a Survey of Health of Wisconsin found. Many other studies are examining how higher amounts of green space in cities leads to mental health benefits. Even the impact of outdoor exercise and community gardening, explored by Harvard School of Public Health, links to mental health benefits such as recovery of mental fatigue, reduces stress and improved restoration. Spending more time in nature restores the ability to concentrate and reduces mental fatigue, a new idea called “restoration theory”. The focus of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv, is to bring together cutting-edge research showing that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development in physical, mental and spiritual. Nature is a potent therapy for depression, obesity and ADD. Alienation from nature damages children and adults and shapes unhealthy communities.

“We can never have enough of nature.” Henry David Thoreau

The University of Arizona reports that some German hospitals are beginning to use rock climbing as a new treatment for depression. A recent study involved 100 individuals in a bouldering intervention. Participants climbed for three hours per week for 8 weeks and according to Beck’s Depression Scores, improved 6.27 points as compared to the non-bouldering group improvement score of 1.4 points. The group was climbing boulders or moderate walls without the need for ropes or harness. While climbing builds muscle and endurance the participants also reported immediate feelings of accomplishment, increase feelings of self- worth and increased enjoyment with the social contact, all very important elements in treating depression. Not measured was the effect of being outdoors among the sounds and smells of nature, the sunshine and the views.

It’s time to get out of the fog and go outside! Ride the rails! Explore the tide pools at the beach! Camp by a stream. Search for salamanders. Walk the trail to Kilchis Point! Improve your mental health!

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.”
-John Burroughs

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