As time goes on, we seem to be spending more and more time behind a screen, and less time outdoors. Science seems to agree with this notion. We Americans tend to spend eleven hours per day staring at a screen. This number is up from the nine-hour average of just a few years ago.  Unfortunately, this indoor time is killing our gut health. Let’s take a look at the connection between nature and gut health, plus how outdoor time can improve your stomach bacteria diversity.
Nature and Gut Health: Prevent Vitamin D Deficiency
Also known as The Sunshine Vitamin, Vitamin D is a nutrient in which many Americans are deficient. In fact, about 42% of people in the US either have a Vitamin D deficiency or are consuming less than the recommended daily intake of this vital nutrient .
Not having enough Vitamin D is known to increase your risk of inflammation. Long-term inflammation can wreak havoc on your gut, even causing you to develop Leaky Gut Syndrome. Therefore, you want to get as much Vitamin D in your diet as possible. Unless you want to drink gallons of fortified milk (which we wouldn’t recommend for your weight concerns), the best to boost your Vitamin D intake is to step outside.
Nature and gut health go hand-in-hand because the sun is our most significant source of Vitamin D. All you have to do is get a few minutes of direct sunshine a day. As the sun kisses your skin, the vitamins will permeate your skin barrier. This essential vitamin will then enter the gut biome through the gut-skin-axis.
Do note that direct sunlight can also increase your risk of developing skin cancer. So, try to wear sunscreen as well. If you are concerned about skin cancer or live above a certain latitude, you can get Vitamin D from most fish and other dietary supplements.
Nature and Gut Health: Improve Your Mood
Sunlight, the wind, the trees, and potentially even hanging out with other people outdoors boosts the serotonin levels in our brain.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that allows us to feel happier. Consequently, adequate serotonin levels lower our chances of experiencing depression.
In order to keep the mind in check, you need to keep the gut up to snuff as well. That’s where the nature and gut health connection comes in.
Hanging out in nature can improve your gut health in a variety of ways. First, breathing clean air can assist our lungs in filtering out toxins within our closed quarters of an office or home.
Plus, getting out and exercising can also improve your gut health. Activities such as running and playing sports move about the stomach bacteria in our gut biome. It’s like putting all the ingredients for a margarita in a mixer and giving it a shake. You start off with lime juice, tequila, and Cointreau. Once you shake it up with ice, you have a margarita. By shaking together your gut bacteria, you alter the microbiome for the better.
Perhaps the most substantial connection between nature and gut health is that the outdoors forces us to be present. We all live such hectic lives. Experiencing that mindful vibe that we all get while hanging out in nature can help take our mind off our troubles. Disconnecting may alleviate some of those knots growing in your stomach or prevent you from binge-eating your feelings. So, take a hike or do some camping under the stars. Soon you will be happier, and so will your gut.
Nature and Gut Health: Regulate Sleep Cycle
Nature has been known to help with your sleep, as well. As the sun goes down, melatonin in our brain starts to rise. This chemical helps us know when it is time to sleep. Our nightly sleep cycle is dictated by our circadian rhythm.
One meta-analysis on this sleep phenomenon stated,
“Circadian rhythms can influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits and digestion, body temperature, and other important bodily functions. Biological clocks that run fast or slow can result in disrupted or abnormal circadian rhythms. Irregular rhythms have been linked to various chronic health conditions, such as sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder .– National Institute of General Medical Sciences
When we spend our days inside, blue lights from computer screens can really mess our circadian rhythm up. Our brains never truly get to that slow zone. Long-term ramifications of too much screen time can lead to insomnia and poor quality sleep.
As the sun goes down, melatonin in our brain starts to rise. This chemical helps us know when it is time to sleep. When we spend our days inside, blue lights from computer screens can really mess our circadian rhythm up. Our brains never truly get to that slow zone. Long-term ramifications of too much screen time can lead to insomnia and poor quality sleep.
Lack of proper sleep can cause many issues, both physically as well as mentally. One of these ways is through your microbiome. According to one study, just two nights of getting less than five hours of sleep caused a massive change in the microbiome of the participants .
Nature and gut health work in mysterious ways. However, they need your help to make the magic happen. So, make sure you go for long walks in the park, and let the sun guide your sleep cycle.
Nature and Gut Health: Gut Biome Diversity
Humans are far too clean nowadays. Many people sanitize their hands after everything and are deathly afraid of bacteria and germs. However, this fear of microbes may be precisely what is causing issues, such as gastrointestinal distress, in the first place.
While sanitation is necessary and is crucial in preventing everything from everyday sickness to baby’s deaths . However, let’s be honest with ourselves. Today’s society goes a bit overboard.
Historically, people dealt with sicknesses by relying on our body’s own immune system to fight these illnesses off. Now, we’ve trained our immune system to be a bit weaker. It relies on pharmaceuticals to keep it robust. Consequently, long-term use of these medications can lead to stomach problems.
Our gut biome used to rely on bacteria from dirt on our foods. That’s why our ancestors’ stomach bacteria were a lot more diverse. . So, be sure to get a little dirt on your hands. You will have a stronger gut for it.
How to Improve Gut Health with Nature
Since we have determined that spending time in nature is important, what are some good ways to do it? Here are some ways to get out to improve your nature and gut health connection.
Take a Vacation
We all need a little vacation, and what better way to do that than by spending time outside? Camping out is becoming more popular, and a lot of people are trying to get back to their roots. So, having a night under the stars can be a way to boost your immunity and increase your mood.
Any time out in nature is beneficial.
Maybe find a mountain range, and try to make it to the top? Perhaps take a hike along a scenic trail?
Next time you are planning a vacation, try to make it a holiday to the beach? That’ll take care of your Vitamin D deficiency and give you excellent nutrients from the sea!
Swim in a Lake
Lakes have a lot of natural bacteria in them, making them great to help boost your immune system and increase gut health. They are also enjoyable to swim in, especially with friends or family!
Going into a lake is especially fun for those who can’t take the rumble and tumble of beach waves. Luckily for you, there are thousands of fantastic lakes all over the country that you can use to strengthen your nature and gut health connection.
Get More Plants
If going outside is something that you either can’t do or is simply not feasible for your location, try to add a lot of houseplants to your home. Heck, if you can’t go to the woods, then bring the woods to you!
Maybe even start a large garden outside. You don’t need to recreate Snow White’s hangout; you just need is to be closer to nature. Seeing plants grow right before your eyes from your own hands is an excellent way to boost your mood, improve air quality, and even up your Vitamin D intake.
Hanging around nature is something that we as animals are evolved to benefit from. Spending just 30 minutes to an hour outside per day can improve your microbiome. Your body will thank you if you blend nature and gut health together for your wellness routine.
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 PennisiFeb, Elizabeth, et al. “Evidence Mounts That Gut Bacteria Can Influence Mood, Prevent Depression.” Science, 4 Feb. 2019, www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/02/evidence-mounts-gut-bacteria-can-influence-mood-prevent-depression.
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