Go Outside and Play
by Joseph Brady
In Traditional Chinese Medicine one whole group of therapeutic exercises involve what is called “Nature’s Therapy”. The ancient Chinese believed that there is something inherently therapeutic about being around nature. Sun bathing, air baths, water therapy even gardening have their place in the constellation of therapeutic practices that comprise Traditional Chinese Medicine. Nature’s Therapy is one reason Tai Chi and Qigong are traditionally practiced outside in parks. In addition to the normal benefits of exercise, going outside provides additional benefits. Getting out in nature can provide much needed stress relief in our high-tech, high-stress lives. Being in nature’s slower cycles can offset the hectic pace of modern life. Hanging out in natural settings has very healthy effects on physiology. Being around plants can reduce heart rates and blood pressure. Taking care of a garden gives you something to focus on besides your troubles. Walking and taking time to smell the roses are better ways to deal with stress than hollering and fretting.
Go Out and Play
Remember when your parents told you to go out and play? We all think that our children are watching too much TV and should use more of their body than video games require. “Actions speak louder than words” means we need to set a good example, yet most of us grownups do not. Even our older generations who are presumably wiser, have given up smelling real flowers for watching pictures of flowers on the Discovery channel. Modern life has reduced the average retiree to keeping up with TV shows and commercials as their second career – a full time job of 60 hours a week.
My wife, Jacqui, is often consulted by the grandparents and parents of children who are being labeled behavior problems at school. Her advice is based upon professional training and personal experience: “We are all concerned that our children are not active enough, but, when they are active, we put them on ritalin to reduce their activity. We cannot have it both ways. If we want people to be active, we have to quit sedating people so they will sit still! Until recently, if a therapist wanted a child or an adult to calm down or sleep better, they prescribed ’exercise’ as part of their treatment so they could burn up the excess energy in a constructive and healthy way. We have to quit giving mixed messages.
Nature’s Therapy in Springtime
Springtime is a natural time of new beginnings. We instinctively want to go out and play. Children need permission to go outside, but from whom do we adults get permission? Well, we have permission from the CDC and Surgeon General’s Office. You are supposed to go out and play each day, at least for some small part of the day. It is good for your health. Being outside in nature each day and getting even moderate amounts of physical activity can contribute greatly to your health. In springtime we can take advantage of longer daylight hours and budding plants and trees to give us the initiative to go out and get over the winter doldrums. After a long winter cooped up indoors, eating holiday meals, and watching far too much TV, springtime is a natural time for people to look forward to shedding those extra pounds and getting back into shape for the summer and fall. The term “spring training” has come to mean a time of excitement and renewed energy as we get ready for the upcoming baseball season. You can think of your own spring training program in similar terms.
Nature’s Therapy in Hospitals
One study found that hospital patients whose rooms overlooked parks left the hospital sooner and needed less painkillers than patients who looked out on other buildings. One hundred years ago, people were big on what they called the “nature cure.” They noticed that people who were cooped up inside all the time grew sickly and depressed. Victorian era hospitals and sanitariums would have staff walk people around in the fresh air to revitalize the spirit. Today’s research on indoor pollution levels shows that energy efficient buildings admit little fresh air, so indoor air can be as much as 100 times more polluted than outside air.
Nature’s Therapy for Depression
Sunlight and fresh air are believed to enhance your health when you exercise out of doors. . Sun bathing and air baths are used extensively in oriental medicine. When your grandma noticed you were feeling down in the dumps and she told you to go take a “walk in the park in the sunshine”, was she just a foolish old woman or does it really make you feel better? So many of us are taking antidepressants these days that you wonder if our ancestors sat around depressed all the time or whether they had other methods of dealing with the blues?
If you do your activity in an enjoyable setting where your mind is engaged as well, then you are sure to have an enjoyable experience. Probably the best exercise you can do is the type that you enjoy. Try lots of different kinds until you find something you have fun doing. If walking’s not your cup of tea, try tennis or golf, or go ballroom dancing. Try something in the park like T’ai Chi Chuan or Folk Dancing. You could join the Walk with a Doc program that meets in various parks around Denver and in other cities.
My favorite exercise is T’ai Chi because of everyone can do it and the skills development is enticing to so many. The most enjoyable way to play T’ai Chi is outside in the fresh air. Every year the T’ai Chi Project has a contest among students to see who can play T’ai Chi in the most exotic location. We had a student play T’ai Chi on the white cliffs of Dover … another on the arctic circle. My wife, Jacqui and I, took a trip to Hawaii last summer and got to play T’ai Chi inside the crater of the active volcano Mount Kilauea. Playing T’ai Chi on the beach one morning, we saw a group of dolphins come toward the beach. In China, they say that when your T’ai Chi is good animals will approach. I do not know how good our T’ai Chi was, because when we saw the dolphins we jumped in the water and went swimming with them. Without noticing it, I ended up exercising harder than I had in very long time. Made me wonder if that was how our ancestors survived without owning a thighmaster. Sound like fun? It was , but you do not even have to leave the beautiful scenery in Colorado. We met people in Hawaii who wanted to come to Colorado on vacation.
Living in Colorado we are extremely lucky. We have so much choice. Choose different settings, choose different parks or places you have never been before (just make sure it’s a safe neighborhood). Go out and make exercise an adventure. Just be sure and smell the roses.
Take a Tip from Anne Frank
This spring take a bit of advice from someone who was involuntarily cooped up. After years of hiding from the Nazis, Anne Frank wrote in her diary on February 23, 1944, “the best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” So right now turn off the computer and go on outside and play!
For more information, Joe can be reached at 303-744-7676.