7 Ways Nature Does a Menopausal Body GoodNov 07, 2023
Here’s why Mother Nature is a menopausal woman’s best friend.
By Selene Yeager
We all know we feel better when we get outdoors to run, ride, hike, swim, or even just sit and stare at the beauty of nature, whether on a remote backcountry trail or a tree-lined park in an urban setting.
Well, there’s also a tall, and growing, body of research showing that nature and greenspaces are good for our physical, as well as mental health, and that menopausal women may reap specific benefits from more time hanging out with Mother Nature. Here are seven to consider.
Improved Health & Well-Being
Globally speaking, being exposed to nature is just good for our overall health. A 2021 literature review found evidence of associations between being out in nature and improved cognitive function, brain activity, blood pressure, mental health, physical activity, and sleep.
How much is enough? A 2019 study published in Nature found that people who had contact with nature for at least two hours a week reported good health and/or high levels of well-being compared to those with no contact. The results peaked between about 3 ½ to 5 hours a week with no further noted benefits after that point (though there’s certainly no reason to head indoors either!). Importantly, it also didn’t matter if the time in nature happened in little bits throughout the week or all at one time, like one long weekend outing.
Nature lowers stress levels. Walking through and/or even just viewing forested areas is associated with lower cortisol levels and decreased blood pressure. A study from 2018 published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that people who live in greener areas have lower levels of sympathetic (aka fight or flight) activation and oxidative stress, regardless of demographic or other factors in their environment.
Better Mental Health
Nature is calming and good for your moods, especially if you tend to suffer from anxiety and ruminate on things (raising hand here…). In one study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, researchers found that when women (and men) took a walk along a greenway in the Bay Area, they not only reported less rumination, but also brain scans showed reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC), an area of the brain associated with self-focused behavioral withdrawal. Study participants who walked the same amount of time along a busy thoroughfare in Palo Alto didn’t enjoy these benefits. Nature matters here.
Bigger, Healthier Brains
Spending time outdoors can help build your brain. A brain scan study published in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry found that just being outside actually increases the gray matter volume in the right dorsolateral–prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), which is a part of the brain associated with executive functions like working memory, planning, and selective attention, which are the tasks we sometimes struggle with when we have brain fog.
While even small amounts of time outdoors were linked to greater gray matter volume in the DLPFC, the more time outdoors, the higher the gray matter, with the average brain structure change attributed to time outside being 3 percent, similar to those associated with other known brain-building activities like physical exercise and cognitive training.
Exposure to natural light, particularly in the morning and during the day helps regulate our circadian rhythms, which can lead to better quality sleep at night. A study of more than 400,000 women and men recently reported that each hour spent in outdoor light was associated with greater ease of waking in the morning, less frequent tiredness, and fewer symptoms of insomnia.
More Vitamin D
Menopausal women need all the bone-building benefits they can get and vitamin D through sun exposure is key. Though you can get this essential micronutrient through fatty fish, eggs, and fortified dairy and other foods, sun exposure is vital to meet your bone, blood cell, and immune system vitamin D needs. The International Osteoporosis Foundation recommends spending at least 15 minutes per day outside.
Slower Reproductive Aging
When you consider how exposure to nature and the outdoors can lower our stress levels and benefit our health and well-being, it’s not surprising that a recent study also reports that living in greener neighborhoods is associated with older age at menopause and might slow reproductive aging.
Get More Nature!
Exercising outdoors when possible is an obvious way to get your nature fix, but you can also get creative to sneak in more daily doses.
Sip in the sunshine. Grab your morning coffee, tea, or smoothie and do a few minutes morning stretches in the sunshine.
Lunch outdoors. Take your lunch in a nearby park rather than at your desk.
Plant a garden or flower bed. Having a small garden or just a pretty outdoor stoop with some potted plants will make you more likely to spend more time outdoors.
Get some foul weather gear. Many of us are fair weather outdoor goers. But some good boots and gloves and a winter puffy can help you enjoy nature more year ‘round.
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