Connecting Health and Nature - by Cheryl Conlee

Cheryl is a friend of mine who has found her own, effective way to deal with a long-term heart condition. Something that could have killed another person appears to have become her call to live more closely in-tune with herself, nature, and the people she loves. How many of us can reset a bad mood with a walk outside? How many of us can change our life direction by spending serious time in nature? The physical and mental aspects of nature and health are interconnected in astounding ways. Let's take a walk.


I’ve taken my walks this past week at Miramar Lake in San Diego, California. I’ve had the privilege to experience a variety of cultures, hear a variety of languages, and see beautiful, scenery unlike my own at home.  There were people biking, jogging, walking, walking their dogs, and doing that strange jog-walk thing where their arms are flailing about, but I’m actually moving faster than they are.   People young and old, in a variety of dress move across the paths.  However great the diversity among the participants, there were two common themes – nature and health.

Walks at places like Miramar Lake remind me that I am not alone in my struggle for good health, there are people here exercising who are obviously recovering from or fighting some health malady.  There are the younger people whose bodies have not worn down yet, and the older people who just refuse to give up.  It encourages me to see both ends of the spectrum, as I progress from one end to the other.

The walks also remind me how intertwined nature is with health.  I could walk in a gym on a treadmill, but I would miss the wildlife going about their day.  I would not see playful dogs challenging their owners for the leash, and often winning!  I would not share the beauty of nature with others.  Inevitably, whenever someone stops to study a plant or creature, everyone passing strains to see the prize.  Some even stop and strike up a conversation.  Human interaction with strangers – how rewarding!  So even though my physical requirements might be met on a treadmill, my spirit would not be filled.  

There is more and more medical evidence that mental peace and physical disposition are intricately linked to one another.  Why, then, do some people only seek the physical?  A frequent “homeopathic” remedy for depression is gardening!  Bacteria in plain old dirt strengthens the immune system, thereby helping treat depression.  There is a more obvious connection between the constitution of kids who play outside versus kids that watch TV and play video games.  It pays to get dirty!

Miramar Lake is in San Diego.  Yet when I walk the lake trail, I don't hear traffic.  I don't see high rises.  You can be completely devoid of technology even in the midst of a big city if you make a small effort.  There is no better way than nature to escape the “modern” world.  For me, escaping the modern world is the best way to mental peace, even if I am only escaping internally through meditation or prayer.  Our minds need rest, just as our bodies do.

I walk at home, though, admittedly, I walk in town most of the time – a small town, though.  I also walk at home, around the property.  I look for new plants, mushrooms, muscadines.  I visit with my animals and watch the wildlife play, which mostly consists of the squirrels trying to figure out how to steal the bird seed!  I check on the garden; I water plants; I fill water buckets for the animals.  It’s a leisurely stroll, usually with at least one dog in tow.  It takes about ten to fifteen minutes to make the rounds.  But it is spiritually fulfilling! Walk ten minutes on a treadmill and see how spiritually fulfilled you are.

I don’t know the scientific explanation for all this, other than that we are humans.  We are animals.  We are OF nature.  And the more we try to separate ourselves from nature, from our roots, the more damage we do to our health.  I’m not proposing that everyone become a farmer.  The world needs doctors, lawyers, and teachers, but we should all be teachers in the sense of passing on to one another and future generations how important nature is to our health and wellbeing.  I hope you will walk outside today, even if it is just for a few minutes.