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Friendly forests and nurturing nature.

South Korea even has a Jangseong healing forest where 2000 plus visitors per month walk through its expanse of cypress trees seeking healing and relaxation – in addition to taking in its sheer beauty. Described by Florence Williams in her book, The nature fix, the two and a half million trees are said to have reduced stress 53% and lowered blood pressure 5% to 7%. She was told the phytoncides are antibacterial and even the soil is good for healing. After only a few minutes of walking, Williams felt more awake than she had been all day.

Korean researchers found that the immune-boosting killer T cells of women with breast cancer increased after a two-week forest visit and stayed elevated for 14 days. People in nature as opposed to the city achieved better fitness and were more likely to continue exercising.

Visits to Korea’s country forest increased from 9.4 million in 2010 to 12.7 million in 2013, while in the U.S., visits to national forests dropped by 25%. In North America at least, we are not taking advantage of the healing power of forests.

There are few trees in cities to absorb particulate matter from pollution, and scientists found that pollution from diesel, as an example, shortens lifespan by causing cardiovascular and pulmonary problems. Black carbon from fires and cook stoves are blamed for 2.1 million premature deaths annually around the world.

It’s not just the lungs that are affected by pollution. The nose allows a direct pathway to the brain, bypassing the blood brain barrier. (This became obvious in 2003 when researchers found brain lesions on stray dogs in smoggy Mexico City.) After spending over 50 years in traffic-congested, smoggy Toronto, it’s no wonder I feel so much better both physically and mentally in the town of Sussex, New Brunswick – surrounded by forests and lacking any pollution-spewing factories or exhaust from  traffic congestion.

To give you an idea of the effectiveness of trees in keeping our air breathable, William’s book reports that a 2014 study estimates trees in the U.S. remove 17.4 million tons of air pollution per year, providing $6.8 billion in human health benefits.

All of this convinces me that my move from the city to the country was well worth the effort.

Richard Louv, in his book, The nature principle, claims that spending time in nature can make aging easier. He refers to it as “nature-assisted aging.” I know I feel younger when I’m walking in a park or along a nature trail. And as someone commented in Louv’s book, “It brings out the excitement and enthusiasm I had as a youngster. I know my body is getting old, but as long as I remain connected to nature, I don’t feel old.”

Louv also mentioned several studies indicating the benefits of gardening. One showed that when elderly residents in retirement apartments had a garden view they experienced greater satisfaction and stronger feelings of well-being. Another study, where one group of institutionalized seniors were provided gardening time, it resulted in emotional and mental improvement as well as pinch and grip strength and improved dexterity. An Australian study found that daily gardening was associated with a 36% reduction in the risk of developing dementia.

The above studies may also show the benefits of exercise as well as the impact of exposure to nature. The more exercise one gets, the more the cells release antioxidants for their protection. It would appear that nature walks, gardening and exercising outdoors are all beneficial for seniors – and anyone for that matter.

Moncton Hospital in New Brunswick, about a half-hour drive from where I live, has a roof garden called a “healing garden” with room for exercise. They have found it reduces the medication needed for sleep disorders and helps mental health.

If that’s true, and few people would doubt it based on the research, the Fundy Trail, only a 45-minute drive from Sussex, should be promoted as a healing trail. 16 km of hiking and biking trails and 19 km of parkway with breathtaking views of the Fundy coast should take anyone’s mind off their ailments. And imagine tides that rise 32 feet! Nature at its best.

New Brunswick, now my province of choice, is not an ideal place for lucrative jobs. It currently has the lowest median net worth of any other province in the country, according to a December, 2017 report from Statistics Canada. But money can’t buy health.

It’s interesting to note that young people leave in droves to seek out high paying jobs in the big cities, only to return in their senior years. New Brunswick and the other Atlantic provinces have the highest percentage of seniors in the country according to Statistics Canada. It’s an ideal place for retirement because of its lower cost of living as well as its quality of life.

I’m not saying you should move to Sussex; but you should definitely draw closer to nature if at all possible. And if not, at least draw nature (in the form of plants, greenery and scenic views) closer to you.

 

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A hug a day could keep the doctor away.

One study described in the book, Younger next year, involved rabbits stacked in cages up to the ceiling and being injected with cholesterol to study plaque buildup. The rabbits in the lower cages had 60% less plaque than those in the higher cages. Not a correlation that the researchers were looking for. Seems the custodian who fed the rabbits loved animals, and petted and fussed over those she could reach – and they prospered. When they reversed the cages the rabbits who had been in the higher cages prospered as well.

Animals thrive on attention, stroking and petting; but so do humans, as illustrated by another study that kept track of heart attack victims who did or did not have a dog. Those who didn’t have a dog were six times more likely to die of a second heart attack. So it’s not only the one being petted who reaps the benefit.

Hugging increases levels of the neuropeptide oxytocin, sometimes referred to as a “cuddle hormone” or “love” hormone. Oxytocin promotes relaxation and supports coping skills, and hugging is one of the methods that Gayatri Devi recommends in his book, A calm brain, to calm your brain and reduce stress. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak recommends at least eight hugs a day to be happier and enjoying better relationships.

There is nothing new about the positive effects of hugging. Ever since the time of Florence Nightingale, who illustrated how babies thrive when cuddled, studies have consistently shown that hugging, cuddling, touching and stroking all have a positive impact on health and well-being.

Isolation has the opposite effect. Single men die before married men. Go back to an empty house after your first heart attack and you double the risk of a second heart attack within a few months. The more friends you have, the higher the survival rate.

The lonely are twice as likely to have ulcers. And low levels of social interaction evidently have worse effects than being obese or not exercising. Companionship is good for everyone – assuming the feelings are mutual.

When you are with friends, you don’t have to do all the talking. It’s more important to be a good listener. In fact, according to the book, Younger next year, your blood pressure actually goes up when you talk, and down when you listen.

There is a common expression concerning mindfulness that suggests “wherever you are, be there.” In this age of technology, we should add, “And whomever you are with, be with them.” It’s interesting to observe the number of people and their companions who seem to be more interested in their devices then each other. Whether in restaurants, commuter trains, shopping malls or walking, it’s astounding to see how little communication is actually going on between partners.

The sheer volume of time people are spending on the Internet has to be taking time away from communications in the real world.

There are many studies showing that social relationships are good for your health and well-being. None of these studies seem to refer to social networking. There is no doubt a benefit, but it couldn’t possibly approach the benefits derived from the more intimate one-on-one relationships with those you can actually reach out and touch?

It may be time to trade a few hundred friends on Facebook for a few more hours of quality time with those you really love.

Spend more time with people and less time with things.

 

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Take charge of your health

You might think that neuroticism, frequently linked to depression and anxiety, would be considered a trait that would shorten your life span. But it could actually lengthen your lifespan, according to one study that was published in Psychological Science and reported in the November/December, 2017 issue of Psychology Today. Of the 321,000 people studied, those who rated themselves low on health tended to have a lower mortality rate. It’s thought that people who scored high in neuroticism and rated their own health as poor or fair might make greater use of primary care and go to hospitals more often.

This isn’t suggesting that you become neurotic; but it could suggest that it pays to get regular checkups and not write off the medical profession simply because you have had some success with natural remedies – or nature itself, as I discussed in a previous blog article, “The greening of my life.” We also need the medical profession in order to live a long and fruitful life.

I have been writing a lot about the importance of sunshine, attitude, lifestyle and environmental factors for healthy living. I do believe in the power of such things as nature, sleep, relationships, music and the environment to improve both your health and longevity. But I still go to the dentist when I have a toothache, and owe my life to doctors who nipped my cancer in the bud, performed surgeries when necessary, and diagnosed the diseases and complaints I have experienced along the way.

David B Agus, MD, in his book, A short guide to a long life, indicates that a staggering seven out of 10 deaths among Americans each year are from chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, dementia, kidney disease and diabetes. He also suggests that there is a plethora of information available in this high-tech age on how to stay healthy. And yet prevention is a hard sell – perhaps because we tend to live in the moment rather than prepare for the future.

To quote Dr. Angus, “preventable non-communicable diseases now account for more deaths worldwide than all the causes combined.” If we took an active interest in our own health – enough at least to carve out a lifestyle that would pay off in the future – we would have a much better chance of extending our lifespan.

We are so conditioned to “buy now and pay later” that we frequently do the same with our health – we overindulge or eat junk food and pay for it later in life.

As far as preventative health measures are concerned, there is no “one fits all” regime that we can adopt. For example, such things as acupuncture, aromatherapy and massage can be effective only for certain conditions and certain people. But there are some things we can all do that seem to help everyone, such as exercise, adequate sleep and exposure to nature.

In my book, “How work environment impacts productivity”, published by Bookboon.com, I discuss not only how the nature impacts not only our personal productivity, but in many cases our health as well

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The greening of my life – and results to date.

Green fields

I have been periodically updating my readers on my personal experiences with a greener, more active, and yes – more productive life. “Productive” does not necessarily relate to work or business. A person is productive when he or she receives maximum value from life with minimum input. Minimum input does not refer to sloth; but to the fact that you don’t have to invest all your money, energy and personal resources to yield a happy, healthy, useful and purposeful life – even in your latter years.

This particular personal journey started several years ago when I discovered the power of plants, trees and nature in general, along with social relationships and lifestyle factors, to positively impact productivity, health and well-being.

Until then I didn’t realize that plants and trees act as vacuum cleaners removing toxins and pollution from the air or that friendships impacted longevity or that our minds could frequently cure diseases. The more I studied the importance of adequate sleep, exercise and the environment in which we work and live, the more changes I made to the way I work and live.

Living and working in the Toronto area limited those changes, but I originally reported on the impact of increasing sleep from 6 to 7 hours a night, walking regularly, moving my home office to the solarium where I was exposed to natural light, working at coffee shops, and my attempt at “growing” artificial plants on my balcony.

Basically the results were an increase in personal energy and productivity resulting in greater output (mainly in my writing) and a general feeling of well-being.

A year or so ago, when I actually moved to the country (Sussex, New Brunswick) and worked in my home office overlooking a small park, surrounded myself with the natural environment, took up fishing in trout streams, picking wild blueberries and cranberries in season – and joined several service organizations and volunteer groups, the impact of my original city changes outlined above became more evident. My blood pressure has dropped 10 points. (The doctor actually eliminated one blood pressure medication) The psoriasis that persisted on my ankles in spite of creams etc. vanished (at least for the past eight months) and the arthritis in my hands, although never serious, disappeared altogether.

Even if all of this could be simply due to the placebo factor (a phenomenon by which a condition improves simply because the person believes treatment has occurred), the result is unchanged. At 83, I feel more like 63. I’m happy, energetic, more productive enjoying more variety in my life – and as far as I can tell, I’m relatively stress free. (I understand from the literature that stress is an important factor in aging.)

For sure, I am more productive because the value I derive from life is increasing, while input (such as paying about one-third of the money for rent, spending less than one-third of the time in traffic, and spending far less energy writing and dreaming up things to write about, is decreasing.

I will continue to periodically write more about this little adventure of mine (and will include some of the research that seems to lend credibility to my claims) in future blog articles. Meanwhile, I will try to keep on the “time management” track as much as possible. But as I mentioned in my e-book, “An introduction to holistic time management,” published by Bookboon.com, the greatest time saver of all is to live a longer, healthier, happier, and more productive and fulfilling life.

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Why time flies as you age and what you can do about it.

 

Time flies as you age

The September/October, 2017 issue of Popular Science gave the usual explanation as to why time seems to pass more quickly as we grow older. To quote, “To a child, one year can feel like an eternity, but to that kiddo’s grandparents, it passes in a flash.” They are referring to the fact that one year to a child is a lot larger percentage of their total lifetime to date as one year to an elderly person.

As an example, as explained by Barry J. Gibb in his book, The Rough Guide to the Brain, for a 10-year old girl, one year represents 10% of her existence to date. That’s a long time. But to a 60-year old woman, one year represents less than 2% of her life experience to date, giving the impression of it passing much faster. The older you get, the faster life will seem to pass. From experience most of us can vouch for the truth of this statement.

But what most people tend to overlook, is that there are more factors at play than age,  Our perception of time is influenced by many things, such as heat, activity, stress, and speed – regardless of our age. Time goes just as fast for a child as it does for an adult when both are involved in an activity they enjoy. And it drags just as much when they are waiting in a line-up or taking a long trip in a car.

We can compensate somewhat for the age effect by modifying our lifestyle. For example, when we are busy, jumping quickly from one job to another, time seems to pass more quickly. So stay clear of multitasking and avoid busyness as much as possible.

Also, time spent with things seem to go faster than time spent with people. Cultivate friendships and don’t be stingy with your time when you are interacting with others. Gretchen Rubin, in her book, The Happiness Project, referred to a study that showed that doing things with someone  rather  than  doing  them  alone is always more  fun,  regardless of whether  it  is exercising, commuting  or doing housework.

Of fifteen daily activities, researchers found that the only one people preferred doing alone was prayer. Rubin goes on to say that strong relationships not only add more joy to life, it lengthens your life, boosts immunity, and cuts the risk of depression.

Mindfulness also slows down your perception of time. Just as gulping your food and rushing through meals takes the enjoyment out of eating while doing nothing for your health, rushing through life has its consequences. If you can’t remember what you had for dinner last night, you were probably mentally absent at the time. And the same thing applies to life itself. If you rush through life, multitasking and always thinking ahead about the next item on your bottomless “To Do” list, later in life you will wonder where the time went.

Speed is the enemy of time management, not its ally. Life is meant to be savored, not dispensed with as quickly as possible. Slowing down will result in fewer errors, fewer accidents, a healthier lifestyle, improved relationships, and a more enjoyable and memorable life.

Other factors are at play as well. A long period of time spent on the same or similar activities shortens our perception of this time later. For instance, if we fish off the same dock for three  hours  every morning,  the  time  may not  seem to  drag at the  time,  depending  on our level of interest. But looking back at it later, our brain doesn’t distinguish between one fishing session and the others. The past will have seemed much shorter since this part of our life has been compressed. Barry Gibb, in his book, The Rough Guide to the Brain, refers to this as “retroactive interference.”

These effects help move life along faster as you grow older. The longer you live, the more similarity in things you have done, and consequently the more compressed your life becomes.

You are what your brain says you are. You have lived and experienced what your brain says you have lived and experienced. External time passes as quickly as your brain tells you it passes.

Just as inactive waiting makes time drag, so a slow-paced, boring, non-eventful life seems longer while you’re actually experiencing it even though it seems shorter when recalled later. For many people, the days seem to pass slowly and the years seem to fly by.

If you race through life, multitasking, cramming as many activities as possible into a day, generally time will zoom by. And when you’re in your seventies or eighties, it will seem like you have lived only half of that amount of time. That’s what I call poor internal time management. But this doesn’t mean you should lead a slow, quiet, boring, non-active life with plenty of waiting and therefore appear to live longer. Because there are other factors involved, the most significant being memory.

When we contemplate how fast our day or life has gone by, we are relying on our memory. And our memory is very selective. It dismisses anything it deems insignificant. We remember the important things, such as graduation from college, that car accident, our first bicycle, a winning goal scored in a soccer game, a new job and so on. Our brain doesn’t bother with all the insignificant things that happen to us, such as those thousands of emails we reviewed and deleted or the mountains of paperwork that came across our desks or those trivial tasks we worked on, or those endless hours waiting for people.

If we have a lot of significant events in our life – if we achieve significant goals, and we live purposefully – we will have plenty of vivid memories, and consequently, our lives will have seemed longer in retrospect.

I discuss these things and more in my 64-page eBook, Internal Time Management: Slowing the Pace of Life, published by Bookboon.com, 2016.

 

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Are you taking a shortcut through life?

I lived in the city of Toronto for over 60 years before finally moving to New Brunswick. For the last 23 of those years I actually lived in a condo in Markham, a city in itself, immediately north of Toronto.

There’s a walking trail back of the condo in Markham that winds its way leisurely around a pond, through fields, wooded area, along a river, eventually emerging in the quaint village of Unionville, Ontario. People negotiate its many twists and turns either on foot or on bicycle as they get their daily dose of exercise. A pleasant walk indeed. On occasion, I even spotted the odd deer peering through the early morning mist.

But surprising at it may seem, I also spotted shortcuts at every curve – paths beaten through the grass and wild flowers by walkers and cyclists who have been programmed by life to seek out the shortest distance between two points. Has the world gone completely mad? Why would someone whose sole purpose in the morning was to exercise or enjoy the outdoors want to take a shortcut?

Yet this is precisely what they do. And I was tempted as well whenever I saw this swooping arc in the path ending at the foot of a bridge a scant 50 yards straight ahead. Is the real purpose of this path to take a person from point A to point B in the shortest time possible? Forget the rippling stream and swaying branches, the colorful flowers and fluttering birds. Ignore the early morning mist and the animals scurrying for cover in the bushes. Let’s get to Unionville as fast as we can!

Upon reflection, I feel we negotiate life the same way. We try to get through it in the least possible time. Who has time to smell the flowers? Just trample them underfoot as we carve another shortcut through life. Dictate into a handheld device as you drive through the countryside. Skim through e-books as your child skates his heart out for your approval. Mentally rehearse that sales presentation as you and your family eat breakfast in silence. Use your wireless handheld computer to capture e-mail at the beach. Make every vacation a working vacation, every social event a networking opportunity and every airline flight a chance to work undisturbed.

What is the impact of eating breakfast during the commute to work or using a cell phone as we weave through city traffic? A safety hazard? Absolutely. A stressor. Of course.  A time saver? Not really. You cannot save time, stretch time nor salvage time. You can only use time. If you use it for trivial, needless or superfluous things, you are actually wasting it. We try to cheat life by cramming more into each hour; but by doing this we simply displace something else or ruin what that hour already had to offer.

There are a few things that can be done simultaneously while preserving the integrity of each, such as listening to the radio while taking a shower or reading a book while waiting for a delayed flight to depart, but these are few and far between. In general, what appear to be time savers are actually life wasters in disguise.

We are conditioned throughout our lives to hurry, be efficient, and not waste time. We are brainwashed by commercials that promote fast foods, speedy delivery and instant success. We are deluged with time saving appliances, super-swift devices and precision watches that track time to the nth degree. We move faster, talk faster, work faster and live faster. Children grow up faster and grownups grow old faster. Life itself seems to be picking up speed.

It’s a beautiful life, but who has time to notice? Life expectancy has increased but its benefits have been nullified by our distorted perception of time.  We are living faster than the speed of life. We are literally racing to our deaths.

A year ago today I decided to get off the fast track and moved to a small town in New Brunswick. Initially, I was more impressed by the impact of nature on my health and well-being. And the sheer joy of picking wild blueberries and fishing unlimited trout streams. But then I became aware of a change in the pace of life. Only the tourists seem to be in a hurry. I noticed that when others walked, talked and drove more slowly, I tended to do likewise. And yet my productivity – in terms of my writing – increased instead of decreased. My blood pressure dropped an average of 10 points, and I felt more energetic in spite of my age.

I have written in past blogs about my 80-minute commute in Toronto versus my 8-minute commute in Sussex, New Brunswick. And I have mentioned the research that proves beyond a doubt that a greater connection with nature and more interpersonal relationships actually increases personal productivity. They are up there with exercise when it comes to longevity. I now include a slower pace of life as one of our top benefactors as well.

If you are a participant in the rat race, consider getting off that track. You don’t actually have to leave town as I did. But let the die-hards pass you on the way to the finish line. The secret of life is not to be the one to finish it first, but the one who enjoys it the most. Don’t live speedily; live abundantly.

Time management is not doing more things in less time. It is doing things of greater importance in the time that we have. And who is to determine what is important? It’s your call. It’s your time. It’s your life. You may want to live it a little slower and savor the moments.

You may even decide that it’s more important to see those fish gliding effortlessly between the rocks in that shallow stream than to arrive at Unionville ten minutes earlier.

 

 

 

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The greatest time management strategy is to live longer.

I suppose whenever I pass another birthday (83 this month), my thoughts return to thoughts of loving life. The good news, according to statistics, is that we’re living longer. The bad news is that our bodies frequently outlast our minds. Dementia is on the increase. To gain time by living longer and healthier, we must look after our brain as well as our body.

Physical exercise keeps the blood circulating throughout the brain where we need it most. It also helps to build new brain cells and improves learning and memory. So keep up a physically active lifestyle.

Lifelong learning, and the constant mental stimulation that it provides, will offset some of the cognitive decline we experience with aging. Avoiding stress where possible, and being able to cope effectively with it when it does occur, will prevent brain cells from being killed. Minimize the hassles in your life.

Social activities of any kind, where you are interacting with others, force you to practice cognitive activities as you carry on conversations.

Diet can also help. For example, older people, who get omega-3 fatty acids by eating fish such as salmon and sardines, or take DHA and EPA supplements, are believed to be able to slow cognitive decline as well.

An active lifestyle, both physically and mentally, is good for your overall health, including the health of your brain. And the most effective time management strategy I know is to live longer and healthier.

 Age has its benefits besides senior discounts.

Older people are not always portrayed favorably in movies or sitcoms or among the younger crowd. In one study reported in the April, 2010 issue of Scientific American Mind, 65 percent of psychology students agreed that “older people are lonely and isolated.” And 64 percent of medical students agreed that major depression is more prevalent among the elderly,

Research doesn’t back up these opinions. In fact, older adults are actually happier than younger people, at least in the research reported to date. And population-based surveys reveal that rates of depression are highest in those between 25 and 45. The happiest group overall is men aged 65 and older. In one study of 28,000 Americans, a third of the 88-year-olds reported being “very happy” and the happiest individuals surveyed were the oldest.

Older people are more likely to recall positive than negative information, so that should also help. And cognitive abilities do not fade dramatically with age. We do experience some memory loss and forgetfulness; but serious illness of the brain aside, intelligence and verbal abilities are not much different than they were decades earlier.

So being over the hill, doesn’t mean you’re not able to climb more hills.

Purpose beats profit hands down.

It’s important to have goals at any age. But it’s also important to have the right goals. According to Daniel Pink in his book, Drive, it’s our nature to seek purpose. Monetary goals don’t necessarily satisfy. And as people grow older, they seem to have less concern about profit

He refers to a study of University of Rochester grads who were asked about their life goals, and then were followed up early in their careers. Some had “profit” goals such as to become wealthy or famous, and others had “purpose” goals, such as to help others improve their lives or to learn and grow.

Those with purpose goals, who felt they were being attained, reported higher levels of satisfaction and well-being than when in college, and lower levels of anxiety and depression. However those with profit goals reported levels of satisfaction and self-esteem that were no higher than when in college. They had reached their goals; but it didn’t make them any happier.

So attainment of profit or materialistic goals could have little if any impact on well-being.

But it does impact the pocket book. Of course I see nothing wrong with having both profit goals and purpose goals at any age. But being is more important than having, and purpose is more important than profit.

Simplification can help

There’s a book called Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin that describes a Fulfillment Curve. This curve plots money or possessions or “stuff” along the x-axis, or horizontal axis, and fulfillment or happiness along the y-axis, the vertical axis. The more money you have to spend, the greater the degree of fulfillment and happiness – up to a point. After fulfillment goes through the survival stage, comforts stage and luxuries stage, it levels off. Then it starts to decrease.

Once you have achieved what the authors refer to as enough, acquiring more simply makes you unhappier. It’s interesting to note that Daniel Pink also mentions in his book, A Whole New Mind, that while living standards have risen steadily decade after decade, personal, family and life satisfaction haven’t budged.

Material things consume a lot of our time.  People spend their precious non-renewable resource, time, in order to acquire more money and possessions, only to discover that the possessions do little to further their enjoyment of life. In fact, possessions consume even more of this non-renewable resource. Not only does it take time to earn enough money to buy this stuff, it takes time to shop for it, learn how to operate it, maintain it in good working condition, repair it, upgrade it, insure it and use it.

If we have to rent public storage, we have to sign a contract, pay rent, buy a lock, take trips back and forth to check on it or add to it, and so on. We are afraid of losing it, breaking it or having it stolen. We frequently have to make payments on it, acquire more space to accommodate it, and worry about keeping the neighborhood kids or the family dog away from it. There also comes a time when we have to figure out how to get rid of it.

From the viewpoint of cost, stress and time management, you should simplify your life as much as possible. Simplifying your personal life involves freeing up more time and energy to pursue your personal goals and working on activities that you really enjoy. Getting rid of the possessions that threaten to possess you is a good place to start.

 

 

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The great outdoors. Are we becoming nature-deprived?

According to Richard Louv, in his book, The nature principle, “Reconnecting to nature, nearby and far, opens new doors to health, creativity, and wonder.” Florence Williams, in her book, The nature fix, adds “Our nervous systems are built to resonate with set points derived from the natural world.”

John Ratey and Richard Manning, in their book, Go wild: free your body and mind from the afflictions of civilization, state “Modern lifestyles disconnect people from nature, and this may have adverse consequences for the well-being of both humans and the environment.” Eva Selhub and Alan Logan, in their book, Your brain on nature, say that “Less contact with nature appears to remove a layer of protection against psychological stress and opportunity for rejuvenation.” And also, that “nature deprivation may have wide-ranging effects on the immune system.”

Sian Beilock, in her book, How the body knows its mind, reports that “research has found links between greenspace and a safe home life,” and that, “natural surroundings are tied to enhanced working memory, which translates into increased concentration and self-control.” She also mentions that city dwellers are at a 20% increase risk for developing anxiety disorders and a 40% increased risk for mood disorders compared with people who live in less populated areas.

Consider the impact of nature, whether in the form of green space, gardens or parks, on the health and well-being of individuals. According to the June, 2016 issue of Scientific American Mind, “exposure to natural settings has been linked with a vast array of human benefits, from reduced rates of depression to increased immune functioning.”

Researchers have also found that plants act as vacuum cleaners removing pollution from the air. Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants in both home and offices has been linked to anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue and short and long-term cognitive decline among other afflictions.

Recent studies have found that urban green spaces improve cognitive development in children, and those close to park land had better memory development, attentiveness and creativity.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, since moving to the country over seven months ago, and experiencing chipmunks eating from my hand, and woodpeckers, mourning doves and chickadees waiting patiently for me to replenish the birdfeeders, it gave me a new perspective on life and the management of time. Like the trees, the birds seem to be in no hurry. And why should they be? Should we live at the pace we do? The faster we go, the faster life seems to go. Perhaps we should slow down, spend more time outdoors, and enjoy the ride.

My new appreciation for the environment prompted one of my ebooks, The impact of working environment on personal productivity, published by Bookboon.com. And it has also confirmed that we should be our environment’s friend, not its predator.

I can’t begin to explain how invigorating I find my morning walks, the view of trees and rolling hills, grazing cattle and trout streams where you can easily catch your limit in an hour. I marvel at the beauty of nature. And I want my grandchildren to experience it as well.

If we continue our disrespect – or should I say our assault – on nature, our grandchildren may not always have that choice. As Thomas Friedman say in his latest book, Thank you for being late, “If you don’t have a forest, you don’t have trees to soak up the carbon. If you don’t have trees to soak up the carbon, it goes into the atmosphere and intensifies global warming or into the oceans and changes their composition. The natural species loss rate is one species or less per year out of every 1 million species. We are now losing somewhere between 10 and 100 species per million species per year.” He goes on to say, “The scientists estimate that we must maintain around 75% of the Earth’s original forests. We are now down to 62%, and some forests are showing signs of absorbing less carbon.”

I have included a bibliography at the end of this article and you can read for yourself his comments on the acidification of the oceans, the blocking of sunlight and other assaults on nature such as “the hundreds of millions of tons of cement we’ve poured across the earth’s surface,” and draw your own conclusions.

Reading such books as The Hidden life of trees and The genius birds has given me an appreciation of nature. Take trees for example. If you want to survive to a ripe old age you might take a lesson from them. One of the oldest trees on earth, according to Tim Flannery, who wrote the forward to the “trees” book, is a 9500 year old spruce tree in Sweden. That’s a little extreme; but trees tend to survive for reasons that could be familiar to some of us.

First, they tend to live at a slower pace, with electric impulses travelling through their roots (one of the ways and they communicate with other trees) at only one third of an inch per second. Other functions are equally slow. They seem oblivious to our digital age of speed.

Trees are also community minded, caring for one another, thriving on relationships with other trees in the forest, and having stunted growth and shorter lifespans if isolated in a field or transplanted to a garden. They show concern for other trees and for future generations, passing on life-giving sugar and nutrients by way of their roots to other trees in trouble. They have even been known to nourish the stump of a felled tree for centuries after it had been cut down. Do we have such compassion?

More and more we are hearing about the benefits of nature, and yet more and more we are hearing about our decreasing connection with nature.

The major hurdle to spending more time outdoors, besides our attraction to the cities, is our love affair with the digital world. As Friedman noted, “the rate of technological change is now accelerating so fast that it has risen above the average rate at which most people can absorb all these changes.”

And although TV is a time-saving baby sitter for parents, it could be a health hazard for the kids. According to Kaiser Family Foundation research, children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend more than 7½ hours a day in front of screens (including TV, computer and smart phone.) This study did not include time spent doing homework on a computer. This has been shown to result in a greater risk of obesity, sleep problems and aggressive behavior – besides the added disadvantage of not having time to fully experience the benefits of nature.

One family, featured in a Canadian Press article appearing in the June 3, 2017 issue of telegraph Journal.com, are attempting to follow the Canadian guidelines that kids younger than two years old should completely avoid screen time. No smart phones or tablets for the kids. And when the parents have to use their own cell phones, they leave the room. It wasn’t always easy, they claim, but now almost 4 years old, their boys spend more time playing outside and reading books instead of staring blankly at screens.

According Florence Williams, in her book, The nature fix, American and British children today spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did.”  And I can’t help wondering how much time the parents spend outdoors. Personally, I intend to take advantage of the outdoors while it (and I) are still here.

Bibliography:

Ackerman, Jennifer. Genius of birds. Place of publication not identified: Constable, 2017. Print.

Beilock, Sian. How the body knows its mind: the surprising power of the physical environment to influence how … you think and feel. Place of publication not identified: Atria , 2016. Print.

Friedman, Thomas L. Thank you for being late: an optimists guide to thriving in the age of accelerations. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. Print.

Louv, Richard. The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. Chapel Hill: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2012. Print.

Ratey, John J. Go wild: free your body and mind from the afflictions of civilization. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co., 2014. Print.

Selhub, Eva M., and Alan C. Logan. Your brain on nature: the science of natures influence on your health, happiness, and vitality. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers, Ltd., 2014. Print.

Williams, Florence. The nature fix: why nature makes us happier, healthier, and more creative. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. Print.

Wohlleben, Peter. Hidden life of trees. S.L.: William Collins, 2017. Print.

 

 

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Mindfulness and life balance go hand in hand

 

You cannot achieve life balance without mindfulness. Mindfulness involves being in the moment mentally as well as physically. For example you could be at home or on a golf course and yet mentally be back at the office thinking about the project you are working on or worrying about the work piling up in your inbox. Likewise, you could be working on a project at the office and yet be concerned about something at home. In either case your body is be in one place and your mind in another.

Mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience. To enjoy your experience of being with your family or on a golf course or lounging on a beach, your mind must be centered on what you are doing at the time – not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Our minds are frequently working in the future or the past: they seems to be its default settings. You can be mindful at any time, and dwell on the present as it happens. But it takes practice.

Mindfulness is critical to the attainment of a balanced life. Mindfulness precludes multitasking, which is a bane to balance. It forces you to focus on whatever you are doing at the time. For example, if you are physically present with your spouse, you should not be mentally at work.

Mindfulness improves your attention span and concentration – factors that are critical to resisting the lure of technologies and other interruptions in this digital age of speed. You could refer to the “gorilla test” described in the book, The invisible gorilla, where many of the students so intently watching players passing a ball back and forth, never even noticed a fake gorilla walking onto the court.

Mindfulness has been proven to decrease stress and relieve the pressures of a busy day – factors also at odds with a balanced life. Stress has been associated with health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Because of this you might want to start with some mindfulness practices such as meditation or yoga. Or get organized first. You should find it easier to stay organized once you have purposefully set your direction in life and have learned to live with stress.

There are many ways to develop mindfulness, including more formal meditation, yoga, and controlled breathing and relaxation exercises.  But you can also practice on a daily basis simply by being “in the now” as you go about your activities both at and away from work.

Using an example of driving or walking to work, you might try observing the street names, location of the various stores and service stations, and generally being aware of your surroundings. Be in the moment. Living in the moment, defined as mindfulness, is a state of active, open, intentional attention to the present. And it will move you from peak performances to peak experiences.

 

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The paradox of speed

Speed has become a valuable commodity for companies selling a product or delivering a service. In this time conscious age, where everything from same-day delivery and two-minute bedtime stories are in demand, faster has become synonymous with better. People seek faster travel, faster communication, faster meals, and even faster relationships.

The reason supposedly, is to save time. But it also appeals to our sense of urgency: the I-want-it-now syndrome, fueled more by desire to be one of the first to have something, rather than just our impatience.

When radio first appeared, it took 38 years for 50 million people to buy it. TV was gobbled up by 50 million people within 13 years. The World Wide Web captured the 50 million people in four years, iPhone only two years, and Google plus did it in 88 days. By the time Pokémon go hit the market, it sold 45 million apps within a few weeks – although by then, saving time couldn’t have been the motivator by any stretch of the imagination.

By then we were hooked on speed for the sake of speed itself. Who could bear to wait a week for a letter to arrive or a mail-order product? How many people would opt for an oven over a microwave, a lengthy book over a brief e-book or blog article – or even an email over a text message?

Speed is king. And some claim that technology, which makes it all possible, has increased personal productivity to the nth degree. In a perfect world they could have been right. But the reality is that faster cars met with modern-day traffic, gridlock, construction, detours, and longer travelling distances – to the point that we are spending as much time in our vehicles as we did 100 years ago. Where is the productivity increase?

Email is definitely faster than a letter; but 1000 emails are slower than a letter, at least in terms of the writing part – so how could it be a timesaver? For example, in one recent survey, the workers questioned in a poll estimated they spend 6.3 hours a day checking emails, with 3.2 hours devoted to work emails and 3.1 hours to personal messages. Sure, it’s faster than letters, but not when there is so many of them!

Shopping is supposed to be faster with the advent of Superstores allowing one-stop shopping; but the area that has to be covered, the long wait at the check-out desk, and the time deciding which of the tens of thousands of products to buy offsets any time saved.

As far as automation is concerned, washing machines have sure made washing clothes faster; but the problem is that we now have more clothes to wash and we wash them more often.

We can make friends quicker on the Internet; but the media itself – Facebook for example – is consuming more of our time. And the relationships are shallow.

The net result seems to be that we are simply getting the same things done, but at a greater speed. And of course speed can cause stress and anxiety, costly errors, and fractured relationships. If the speed made possible through technology is such a time-saver, where is all the leisure time that was promised to us thirty years ago?

The net time savings seems to be zero; but we do have problems that didn’t exist before, such as the impact of screen time on our attention spans, sleep problems due to sleeping with our smart phones, and lives out of balance because of our addiction to the digital world.

Oh, and we do seem to be spending more time in line-ups, waiting rooms, traffic tie-ups, repair depots, mental health clinics and counselling sessions.