There are some really good scientific reasons why should you spending time in nature.

With spring and beautiful weather finally here, we highly recommend spending some time outside.

Nature offers one of the most reliable boosts to your mental and physical well-being. Here are just a few potential benefits:

1. Improved short-term memory

In one study, University of Michigan students were given a brief memory test, then divided into two groups.

One group took a walk around an arboretum, and the other half took a walk down a city street. When the participants returned and did the test again, those who had walked among trees did almost 20% percent better than the first time. The ones who had taken in city sights instead did not consistently improve.

Another similar study on depressed individuals also found that walks in nature boosted working memory much more than walks in urban environments.

Sources: Psychological Science, 2008; Journal of Affective Disorders, 2013

2. Restored mental energy

You know that feeling where your brain seems to be sputtering to a halt? Researchers call that “mental fatigue.”

One thing that can help get your mind back into gear is exposing it to restorative environments, which, research has found, generally means the great outdoors. One study found that people’s mental energy bounced back even when they just looked at pictures of nature. (Pictures of city scenes had no such effect.)

Studies have also found that natural beauty can elicit feelings of awe, which is one of the surest ways to experience a mental boost.

Sources: Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1995; Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2005; Psychological Science, 2012

3. Stress relief

Tensed and stressed? Head for the trees. One study found that students sent into the forest for two nights had lower levels of cortisol — a hormone often used as a marker for stress — than those who spent that time in the city.

In another study, researchers found a decrease in both heart rate and levels of cortisol in subjects in the forest when compared to those in the city. “Stressful states can be relieved by forest therapy,” they concluded.

Among office workers, even the view of nature out a window is associated with lower stress and higher job satisfaction.

Sources: Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research, 2007; Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, 2010; Japanese Journal of Hygiene, 2011; Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, 2012

4. Reduced inflammation

Inflammation is a natural process the body uses to respond to threats like damage (e.g., a stubbed toe) and pathogens (e.g., exposure to the flu).

But when inflammation goes into overdrive, it’s associated in varying degrees with a wide range of ills including autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, and cancer. Spending time in nature may be one way to help keep it in check.

In one study, students who spent time in the forest had lower levels of inflammation than those who spent time in the city. In another, elderly patients who had been sent on a weeklong trip into the forest showed reduced signs of inflammation as well as some indications that the woodsy jaunt had a positive effect on their hypertension.

Sources: Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, 2012; Journal of Cardiology, 2012

5. Better vision

At least in children, a fairly large body of research has found that outdoor activity may have a protective effect on the eyes, reducing the risk of developing nearsightedness (myopia).

“Increasing time spent outdoors may be a simple strategy by which to reduce the risk of developing myopia and its progression in children and adolescents,” a 2012 review of the research concluded.

An Australian study that followed almost 2,000 schoolchildren for two years found that more time spent outdoors was associated with a lower prevalence of myopia among 12-year-olds. The same association was not found for those who spent a lot of time playing sports indoors, suggesting the connection was about more than physical activity.

In Taiwan, researchers studied two nearby schools where myopia was equally common. They told one school to encourage outdoor activity during recess and monitored the other as a control. After one year, the rate of myopia in the control school was 17.65%; in the “play outside” school, it was just 8.41%.

Sources: Ophthalmology, 2008; Ophthalmology, 2012; Ophthalmology, 2013

6. Improved concentration

We know the natural environment is “restorative,” and one thing that a walk outside can restore is your waning attention.

In one early study, researchers worked to deplete participants’ ability to focus. Then some took a walk in nature, some took a walk through the city, and the rest just relaxed. When they returned, the nature group scored the best on a proofreading task.

Other studies have found similar results — even seeing a natural scene through a window can help.

The attentional effect of nature is so strong it might help kids with ADHD, who have been found to concentrate better after just 20 minutes in a park. “‘Doses of nature’ might serve as a safe, inexpensive, widely accessible new tool … for managing ADHD symptoms,” researchers wrote.

Sources: Environment & Behavior, 1991; Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1995 (2); Journal of Attention Disorders, 2008

7. Sharper thinking and creativity

“Imagine a therapy that had no known side effects, was readily available, and could improve your cognitive functioning at zero cost.” That’s the dramatic opening to a 2008 paper describing the promise of so-called “nature therapy” — or, as a non-academic might call it, “time outside.”

When college students were asked to repeat sequences of numbers back to the researchers, they were much more accurate after a walk in nature. This finding built on previous research that showed how nature can restore attention and memory.

Another study found that people immersed in nature for four days — significantly more time than a lunchtime walk in the park — boosted their performance on a creative problem-solving test by 50%.

While the research suggests the possibility of a positive relationship between creative thinking and the outdoors, it wasn’t enough to determine whether the effects were due to “increased exposure to nature, decreased exposure to technology, or other factors.”

Sources: Psychological Science, 2008; PLOS ONE, 2012

8. Possible anti-cancer effects

Research on this connection is still in its earliest phases, but preliminary studies have suggested that spending time in nature — in forests, in particular — may stimulate the production of anti-cancer proteins.

The boosted levels of these proteins may last up to seven days after a relaxing trip into the woods.

Studies in Japan have also found that areas with greater forest coverage have lower mortality rates from a wide variety of cancers, even after controlling for smoking habits and socioeconomic status. While there are too many confounding factors to come to a concrete conclusion about what this might mean, it’s a promising area for future research.

Sources: International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, 2007; International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, 2008; Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents, 2008; The Open Public Health Journal, 2008

9. Immune system boost

The cellular activity that is associated with a forest’s possible anti-cancer effects is also indicative of a general boost to the immune system you rely on to fight off less serious ills, like colds, flus, and other infections.

A 2010 review of research related to this effect noted that “all of these findings strongly suggest that forest environments have beneficial effects on human immune function,” but acknowledged that more research on the relationship is needed.

Source: Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, 2010

10. Improved mental health

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues may all be eased by some time in the great outdoors — especially when that’s combined with exercise. (This is to be expected, to some extent, as both greenery and exercise are known to reduce stress.)

One study found that walks in the forest were specifically associated with decreased levels of anxiety and bad moods, and another found that outdoor walks could be “useful clinically as a supplement to existing treatments” for major depressive disorder.

“Every green environment improved both self-esteem and mood,” found an analysis of 10 earlier studies about so-called “green exercise,” and “the mentally ill had one of the greatest self-esteem improvements.” The presence of water made the positive effects even stronger.

Sources: Environmental Science and Technology, 2010; Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012; Journal of Affective Disorders, 2013

11. Reduced risk of early death

The health effects of green space are wide-ranging, and studies that can’t prove cause-and-effect still show strong associations between access to nature and longer, healthier lives.

“The percentage of green space in people’s living environment has a positive association with the perceived general health of residents,” concluded a Dutch study of 250,782 people.

Nearby green space was even more important to health in urban environments, the researchers found. In fact, they wrote, “our analyses show that health differences in residents of urban and rural municipalities are to a large extent explained by the amount of green space.”

A follow-up study by the same research team relied on mortality assessed by physicians and found that a wide variety of diseases were less prevalent among people who lived in close proximity to green space. Other studies have made a direct link between time spent in forests and other measures of overall health.

A recent study in Environmental Health Perspectives found a similar connection, finding about a 12% lower mortality rate, with the biggest improvements related to reduced risk of death from cancer, lung disease, or kidney disease.

Why the connection? Researchers point to “recovery from stress and attention fatigue, encouragement of physical activity, facilitation of social contact and better air quality” as well as nature’s positive effect on mental health, which would boost overall health and longevity as well.

Sources: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2006; Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2009; Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, 2012; Environmental Health Perspectives, 2016

This article was originally published on Business Insider.

By Lauren F Friedman and Kevin Loria, Tech Insider

(Photo credits: Pixabay)

Subliminal cues can reverse age stereotypes and increase your strength.

Two recent studies on subliminal messages have found that subconscious visual cues can improve athletic performance and reduce negative age stereotypes of physical ability. The latest research shows that subliminal messages have the power to fortify your inner strength and boost self-confidence on and off the court.

Subliminal visual cues are words, pictures or symbols that are unidentifiable to your conscious awareness. Subliminal stimuli happens so quickly that it is literally “below the threshold” of your conscious mind.

Visual stimuli that is flashed for just a few milliseconds can be absorbed at a subconscious level before your conscious mind has time to interpret the incoming visual stimuli. The effect of subliminal messages can be positive or negative depending on the content of the messages being flashed before your eyes.

A Brief History of Subliminal Messaging

The concept of subliminal messaging took hold in the public consciousness after the 1957 publication of a book titled The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard. In his book, Packard introduces the idea of subconscious messaging that advertisers could use to influence consumers.

In the summer of 1957, James Vicary conducted an experiment on subliminal visual cues during screenings of the film Picnic. Every five seconds, Vicary flashed words like “Drink Coca-Cola” and “Hungry? Eat Popcorn!” for 1/3000th of a second—which is below the threshold of conscious perception. Vicary claimed that displaying these subliminal suggestions increased Coca-Cola sales by 18.1% and caused a 57.8% jump in popcorn sales.

Although the results of his study were dubious, in January of 1974, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) banned subliminal advertising from radio and television broadcasting.

The official announcement by the FCC admitted that—even though they weren’t 100% convinced that subliminal techniques were effective—they stated, “whether effective or not, they were contrary to the public interest, and that any station employing subliminal messages risked losing its broadcast license.”

The two most recent studies on subliminal messaging show that subliminal visual cues do, in fact, have an effect on physical function, endurance, and inner strength.

Subliminal Visual Cues Can Renew a Youthful Sense of Self

The first recent study on the power of subliminal messaging was conducted at Yale University. The researchers at the Yale School of Public Health found that older individuals who were subliminally exposed to positive visual cues and stereotypes about aging showed improved physical functioning that lasted for several weeks.

The October 2014 study, “Subliminal Strengthening: Improving Older Individuals, Physical Function Over Time With an Implicit-Age-Stereotype Intervention,” was published in the journal Psychological Science.

For this study, the researchers used a unique method to examine whether exposure to positive age stereotypes could weaken negative age stereotypes and lead to more vitality and healthier outcomes.

Some of the participants were subjected to positive age stereotypes on a computer screen that flashed words such as “spry” and “creative” at speeds that were too fast to be picked up consciously. This is the first time that researchers have looked at whether positive age stereotypes, presented subliminally across multiple sessions in the community, might lead to improved outcomes.

In a press release, lead researcher Becca Levy PhD, associate professor and director of the Social and Behavioral Science Division at Yale said, “The challenge we had in this study was to enable the participants to overcome the negative age stereotypes which they acquire from society, as in everyday conversations and television comedies. The study’s successful outcome suggests the potential of directing subliminal processes toward the enhancement of physical function.”

During the experiment, positive age stereotypes and positive self-perceptions of aging were strengthened, and negative age stereotypes and negative self-perceptions of aging were weakened.

The researchers found that the subliminal intervention influenced physical function through a chain reaction of positive effects: First it strengthened the subjects’ positive age stereotypes, which then strengthened their positive self-perceptions, which then improved their physical function.

The improvement in these outcomes continued for three weeks after the last intervention session. Most importantly, negative age stereotypes and negative self-perceptions of aging were weakened.

On a cautionary note, the negative age stereotypes and subliminal messages that each of us absorb non-consciously every day through advertising and other streams of media can lead to lower self-esteem. If left unchecked, this can create a snowball effect and downward spiral that saps your inner strength and self-confidence.

Subliminal Messages Can Reduce Perceptions of Effort and Increase Endurance

The second study was conducted by Professor Samuele Marcora at the University of Kent in collaboration with colleagues at Bangor University. In this experiment the researchers flashed subliminal cues, such as action-related words or happy vs. sad faces on a digital screen while endurance athletes were exercising on a stationary bicycle.

Their December 2014 study, “Non-Conscious Visual Cues Related to Affect and Action Alter Perception of Effort and Endurance Performance,” was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

The subliminal words and faces appeared on a digital screen for less than 0.02 seconds and were masked by other visual stimuli making them unidentifiable to the participant’s conscious mind. When the athletes were presented with positive visual cues like “go” and “energy” or were shown happy faces they were able to exercise significantly longer compared to those who were shown sad faces or words linked to inaction.

Related: Keep Running – How the Brain Can Be Manipulated

This research is the first to demonstrate that subliminal visual cues can impact athletic performance. Additionally, the researchers found that the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) can be affected, for better or worse, by subliminal cues when you exercise.

Professor Marcora is currently exploring ways in which this research could open up new possibilities for athletes to improve their performance by using technology, such as ‘smart glasses’, to provide positive subliminal cues during training and competition.

Conclusion: Self-Perceptions Can Be Anything You Imagine Them to Be

I learned about the power of subliminal messaging through trial-and-error as an ultra-endurance athlete out in the field. I’ve written extensively about how-to use positive subliminal messaging to improve performance in The Athlete’s Way. It’s exciting to see scientists proving the benefits of non-conscious visual cues—on and off the court—for people from all walks of life through empirical research.

Related: Subliminal Messages – How They Work and How They Affect Us

This article was originally published on Psychology Today.

About the author

Christopher Bergland is a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist. Follow him on Twitter for updates on The Athlete’s Way blog posts.

If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out his Psychology Today blog posts:

(Photo via Can Stock Photo)

The tempo of the contemporary world makes us feel guilty if we choose to put ourselves first – as if taking care of your most basic needs is selfish, so modern societies unwittingly celebrate self-destructive behavior. That includes skipping your meals, ditching your yoga class and sleeping poorly as soon as your schedule is overflown with tasks and assignments.

Even though you might feel equipped to handle this stressful rhythm, it will ultimately take its toll and wreak havoc on your mood, health, and overall well-being. It’s time to slow down, restructure your life and make smarter choices, in order for your future self will be grateful – so let’s talk self-care strategies!

Savor every bite

Make a solemn promise to yourself to ditch fast food, pastry shops and candy bars that would keep a sloth in an Irish-dancing mood. Your mindset matters, and if you perceive healthy food as your archenemy, that’s the first thing you should change. Convenience doesn’t have to be unhealthy either, as it pays to invest time to prepare food beforehand, and structure a meal plan that will safeguard your immune system.

A weekly grocery shopping spree to for a fresh supply of antioxidant-packed fruits, detox-friendly veggies, and other delicacies will help you stay on the right track. Pick your meal-prepping day to pack your lunches in separate containers, and clear out your unhealthy snack stash – you know you have one! Never again will you have to spend another work lunch feeling guilty for eating a snickers bar or skipping your meal altogether.

Exercise is a way of being

You may not have time every day to visit your Zumba class or work those weights, but whatever you’re doing at home can use a bit of spicing up if you move it, move it! Or not – even static poses can be beneficial for your health when done properly, as you can work on your mobility and flexibility and increase your stability and strength by enjoying an episode of GoT in a Sphinx pose.

Other ways of working your muscles and your endurance while on the job include desk exercises, walking and munching on your lunch break, taking a brief break to do a few squats, lunges or planks (especially for those who work at home), use the jump-rope, and stretch. Other than that, take the stairs, set up walk and talk meetings and avoid spending your leisure time sitting down, even when you don’t have enough time for a full-blown routine.

Support your self-care

Would you encourage your kids to ride their bikes without a helmet or remain indifferent if your best friend goes hiking in her flip-flops? The same way you’d care for someone else, you need to make wise decisions about yourself, especially when you’re about to put your body through a strenuous workout.

Iron-addicts among you know well that you need to protect your ankles with quality bodybuilding shoes and stay hydrated throughout your training session. Yoga enthusiasts always invest in a solid yoga mat and comfortable yoga pants, while runners know not to hit the sidewalk in the first pair of sneakers they come across. Don’t treat any of your routines as a chore, as it can backfire, and you might end up getting injured.

Sweet dreams

Beauty is not the only byproduct of healthy sleep – in fact, most of your problem-solving skills and decision-making ability depend on a regular and quality sleeping pattern. Feeling drowsy or having a headache is a momentary side-effect of poor sleeping habits, but long-term consequences span from increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, depression to diabetes.

Consistency is key, and the only way to restore your natural biorhythm is to create and stick to a sleeping schedule that allows your body plenty of rest. Think of it this way: if you don’t get enough sleep, you will definitely diminish your cognitive capacity to handle all those ambitious tasks tomorrow. Rest, healthy food and exercise are the holy trinity of self-care, but they require harmony to take effect.

Practice gratitude and mental hygiene

Facing fears and detoxing from stress is like flossing for your emotional well-being. It takes a long time to master the art of positive thinking and gratitude, especially when you encounter a setback in life, but it all starts with one caring choice at a time.

Don’t let your emotions fester underneath the smiling surface, but make time to process whatever’s bothering you. The same way you would lend your best friend an ear when she’s in trouble, never ignore your own issues. Start writing an emotion journal, consult a professional, meditate, but find a stress-fighting structure that will let your self-care become a natural set of daily habits and allow your positive mindset to flourish.

This article was originally created and published by Visual Meditation. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution (active link to this article) and author bio.

We all breath, a necessary function to live, but have you ever considered how you are breathing, and in what ways it may benefit your body?

Rather than just relying on this automatic bodily function to act as it should so choose, take control of your breathing and put it to work for your mental, emotional and physical health!

Conscious breathing is the act of breathing with intention and awareness as to your experience in the moment. It allows you to focus the mind, body, and spirit in the moment, creating a connection between all of these parts of your person.

For some, this can be as easy as just taking a few moments to relax the body and focus the mind, whereas for others it is a much more intense practice used to deal with periods of stress and even post-traumatic situations.

The root of many yoga and meditation practices, taking control of your body and employing a breathing technique has been found to benefit the body in many ways including:

  • Improve your mood
  • Promote healthy digestion
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Eliminate oxidative stress on the body
  • Feed healthy cells in the body
  • Reduce cravings
  • Increase mental focus
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Stimulate blood flow to your skin
  • Improve quality of sleep

Try This Powerful Breathing Exercise

This exercise is an introduction to the world of conscious breathing, designed to allow you to experience what you can do through focusing on your breathing techniques.

That being said, breathing exercises can be intense and there are some people who should not be partaking in these exercises without medical supervision. If you have a history of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, retinal detachment, aneurysms, glaucoma, or if you have recently experienced a physical injury or surgery we recommend first speaking with a medical professional. Pregnant women should also practice caution.

Prepare a Safe Space: Anytime that you are practice breathing techniques or meditation it is important that you ensure that you have the appropriate space prepared.

You want to eliminate potential distractions, choosing a quiet space where you will not be disturbed. The exercise involves lying down, so find somewhere with a firm, safe place for you to remain throughout the duration of this experience such as on a yoga mat on the floor. You may also wish to place a pillow or rolled up towel either under your head or your knees. You will want some form of timer nearby, which should be set to 20  minutes.

Step #1: Lie on your back, allowing yourself to get comfortable with any rolled up towels, pillows or blankets for warmth that you may require. Once you start you will remain in this position so it is important that you ensure that you are going to be comfortable enough to relax. Close your eyes and allow yourself to just breathe for a few minutes.

Step #2: Take a deep breath in, focusing on breathing down into the diaphragm. If you are doing this properly you stomach should move outward slightly with the breath. Slowly exhale, keeping the same pace in your breathing regardless of whether you are inhaling or exhaling. Continue focusing on this breathing pattern, being careful not to leave any gaps of time in between inhaling and exhaling. Try visualizing your breath as a circular motion, moving in and out of your body.

Step #3: Continue the circular breathing pattern while allowing your whole body to relax. Feel the tension leaving the different parts of your body with each breath. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be to continue this breathing cycle.

Step #4: Now that you have allowed any physical tension to leave the body, turn your focus to releasing any negative emotions and energies in the body. Every time that you breathe out of your mouth envision these energies leaving with your breath.

As you continue this exercise it is important to note that you may feel your body entering into an ‘altered’ state of consciousness approximately 10 to 15 minutes into this exercise. This may present itself as an overall feeling of euphoria or tingling in your hands or feet.

 Step 5: As your timer goes off, marking the 20-minute mark, it is now time to slowly come back to your physical reality. Take the time to focus on bringing your breathing back to the way in which you would normally breathe on a daily basis. Don’t get up too quickly as you may find yourself light-headed. Take a moment to reflect upon any realizations you may have had throughout this experience.

This article was originally posted at Evolve Me.

Photo credits: Remedies for me

The next time you go out for running, remember that you are not only helping your brain but also improving your emotional health.

Running is a road to self-awareness and reliance – you can push yourself to extremes and learn the harsh reality of your physical and mental limitations or coast quietly down a solitary path watching the earth spin beneath your feet. – Doris Brown

Are you familiar with this feeling? Do you gain insight into your emotional and physical self while you run? Do you enjoy the feeling of the wind against your face and the freedom of being outdoors alone with your thoughts? You may feel that after a good run your mind is clear and ready to absorb information.

You can also find that your outlook is more positive after a run and that things that were troubling you no longer feel so bad. Well, your feelings have a scientific basis. Research conducted in the field of neuroscience shows the effects aerobic exercise have on cognitive clarity and emotional well-being.

New Neurons Would Be Created

It used to be accepted that we were born with a certain amount of neurons and that by the time we became an adult no new neurons would be created. This however, has been proven to be incorrect. Through research on animals it has been discovered that new neurons are continually produced in the brain throughout our entire life.

Karen Postal, president of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology says that the only activity that is shown to trigger the birth of these new neurons is vigorous aerobic exercise. “If you are exercising so that you sweat – about 30 to 40 minutes – new brain cells are being born” says Postal. So sweating it out on the treadmill or out in the open is doing your brain a lot of good and helping it stay mentally healthy for years to come.

People Who Run Can Recover From Negative Emotions More Quickly

In a study by Emily Bernstein and Richard McNally it was found that aerobic exercise may help reduce negative emotions. Bernstein is a runner and she said “I notice in myself that I just feel better when I’m active.” She wanted to find out why this was the case and to know exactly the effect that exercise has on us.

The study set out to look at the way exercise changes the way people react to their emotions. Participants were told to stretch or jog for 30 minutes and were then were shown a sad movie; the final scene of the 1979 film The Champ. The participants then reported their emotional responses. It was found that those who had run for 30 minutes recovered more quickly from their sad emotional experience than those who had just stretched.

Working Memory Would Be Enhanced

A recent study by Lin Li et al titled: “Acute Aerobic Exercise Increases Cortical Activity during Working Memory: A Functional MRI Study in Female College Students”  looks at the effect of acute aerobic exercise on cognitive function.

Their study looked at the effect of a session of acute aerobic exercise on working memory. Fifteen young females participated in the study. There were scanned, after an acute exercise session, using a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) while they performed a working memory task. It was found that the cortex and the left frontal hemisphere showed signs of improvement of control processes. From these findings the researchers noted that this indicates: “acute exercise could benefit working memory at a macro-neural level.” Thus, the study shows a connection between aerobic exercise and improvement in memory.

Summation

Next time you are out for a run know that you are doing yourself a world of good. Not only are you aiding your brain on a neurological level you are also working to improve your emotional health. Your cognitive abilities such as memory will be improved and your outlook on life will probably be more positive. If you don’t already run, then you may want to take out those old running shoes and give them a try.

This article was originally posted on Life Hack.