The Science of Healing in Nature – Dr Matthew McQuaid Lakeport Podiatrist

I have been in medical practice now for 21 years and the most important magazine on display in my office is National Geographic. Patients love looking at National Geographic. There is something about having this magazine on display in a doctor’s office that gives it credibility. My last column was about the health benefits of nature. As a follow-up to that, today I would like to review a recent National Geographic article entitled, “This is Your Brain on Nature”.

It is empowering for me to continue writing about the mind-body connection to health when it is substantiated in scientific research. This article in National Geographic provided the research on how mindfulness in nature can make you healthy!

One scientist from the University of Utah, psychologist David Strayer studies the impact of stress from modern life on human beings. Dr. Strayer has discovered that our brains are prone to mistakes when we are multitasking. He has demonstrated that using a cell phone while driving impairs the driver to the same degree as drinking alcohol. His remedy is spending time in nature.

Strayer findings are that technology and the stress of life can fatigue the brain. It actually changes the type of brain waves to high alert frequencies that can be detrimental. But when his test subjects slowed down and exposed themselves to nature, it increased tranquil feelings and improved mental performance. He conducted an experiment to prove this thesis which he called, the three-day effect.

He brought a group of 50 students on a backpacking trip into the Utah mountains for three days. He compared this group to a control group of 50 students who stayed in the city. The backpacking group improved cognitive test scores on problem solving by 50%. According to Strayer, “If you can have the experience of being in the moment for two or three days, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking”.

He then studied the effects on the brain itself and found changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is the command center of the human brain. After three days exposure to nature he discovered the electrical impulses in the pre-frontal cortex change from high alert alpha frequencies to calmer theta wave impulses. In other words, after spending time in nature, the brain chills out.

What is being discovered is that nature reduces the stress hormone cortisol. With the reduction of this hormone, many diseases are minimized and even remit. In one 2009 study a team of Dutch scientists found lower incidence of depression, anxiety, diabetes, asthma and migraine headaches in people who live in country settings. More striking was a lower mortality rate was also discovered compared to urban city dwellers.

Other fascinating work is also being done in prison inmates. Research is demonstrating that nature videos and wall murals are calming down prisoners and reducing violent behavior. Those prisoners who work outside in forests for clean-up projects have lower tendencies to be violent when brought back to their jail cells.

Lastly, happiness itself is linked to nature. According to Lisa Nisbet a professor from Canada’s Trent University, “People underestimate the happiness effect of being outdoors. We don’t think of it as a way to increase happiness. We think other things will, like shopping or TV. We evolved in nature. It’s strange we be so disconnected from it.”Her recommendation is if you want to be happy, go for a walk in the park.

Living in Lake County gives us distinct advantages. One is nature. So if you want to be healthy and happy, send time in all of the scenic beauty here in Lake County.

Matthew McQuaid, DPM is a board certified foot surgeon practicing in Lakeport. He has a particular interest in Mind/Body medicine and its impact on healing. He is an award winning author and teacher. Please share this article with a friend. For more information please call 707-263-3727 and visit

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