The Power of Nature
A piece of advice that I was given during my training with Operation Flinders was ‘nature does 90% of the work’. This resonated powerfully with me. In my early 20s I climbed my way out of a self-inflicted hole riding a Mountain Bike acquired via a trade with one of my dodgy mates. Toiling up hills against nature, inhaling lung-full after lung-full of crisp, clean air was the catalyst for me righting the direction of my life. What I have learnt since is that it was not the battle against the wild that was so critical for me, it was the immersion in it.
The Science of Greenspace
There is a mountain of evidence proving the myriad health benefits of what the researchers call, ‘Greenspace Exposure’. A systematic review by Twohig-Bennet & Jones (2018) detailed the following benefits of Greenspace Exposure across the 143 studies included in their paper:
- Decreased heart rate.
- Decreased diastolic blood pressure.
- Improvements in Heart Rate Variability (HRV).
- Decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Decreased all-cause mortality.
- Decreased cardiovascular mortality.
- Decreased incidence of stroke, hypertension, dyslipidemia, asthma and coronary artery disease.
Furthermore, a systematic review by Wendelboe-Nelson et al (2019) found that approximately 70% of the 263 studies included in their paper reported a positive effect of Greenspace Exposure on Mental Health and Well-Being. This followed a 2018 Systematic Review of Greenspace Exposure on Children’s and Adolescents Mental Health (Vanaken and Dackaerts). This study highlighted the following benefits in young people:
- Reductions in hyperactivity.
- Improved attention.
- Reduced depressive symptoms.
To sum it up, our mind and body are tremendously grateful to us when we spend time in nature.
Watching it in action
I would not define the young people’s experience with Operation Flinders as ‘Greenspace Exposure’. Rather, it was a week of complete immersion in a wild, rugged and potentially dangerous environment.
Hydration and skin protection against the heat of days was of paramount importance. Then we rugged up and built shelter to fend off the cold and wet of night.
At lunch we’d sit and watch falcons work as a team to hunt a flock of finches. Then marvel at small rock pools filled with fish the size of my hands. How the hell did they get in there? We’d also keep small creatures for company at night- some with four legs, some with six, some with eight!
We would have our minds blown by gazing up and the stars at night and attempting to comprehend the reality of what we were looking at.
Over the course of the week, there was a clear change in all of the boys. Despite the mounting fatigue there was a loosening, a lightening. Conversations became more relaxed, but also deeper. There was more laughter and more tears as the week progressed. It was their toil in nature that did this.
The Critical Factor
Up at Yankaninna Station, there is no telephone and internet coverage. The boys were told to not bring their phones- most complied, but those that disregarded that advice had devices that could really only function as cameras, and could not be recharged. They were forced to disconnect from their online world, and spend a week wholly in the real world. This disconnection from the internet is crucial if you are to reap the rewards of ‘Greenspace Exposure’. If Operation Flinders ensured full internet coverage and recharge facilities for all of their participants I am confident the program would not be nearly as effective.
When I am out hiking, running or riding out in one of Adelaide’s beautiful conservation parks I am always a little dismayed when I see people with earphones in, or sitting and scrolling. If you do this, you are leaving so many benefits of your time outdoors on the table. Take your phone with you, but only as a safety device, not an entertainment device.
Nature has provided you with a symphony of sounds and spectrum of colours for you to enjoy. I urge you to show your gratitude by giving nature your full attention.
Twohig-Bennett, C., & Jones, A. (2018). The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes. Environmental research, 166, 628-637.
Vanaken, G. J., & Danckaerts, M. (2018). Impact of green space exposure on children’s and adolescents’ mental health: A systematic review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(12), 2668.
Wendelboe-Nelson, C., Kelly, S., Kennedy, M., & Cherrie, J. W. (2019). A scoping review mapping research on green space and associated mental health benefits. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(12), 2081.
In May 2021 I completed my first walk for Operation Flinders as an Assistant Team leader (ATL). The implication that this will not be my only walk is deliberate. Truth be told, I can not wait to be back up there.
I have taken with me incredible memories. I’ll remember the bravery in the young men I walked with; bravery to toil against the pain of fatigue and injury, and bravery to voice their fears and doubts. Bravery to cry.
I’ll remember vistas so achingly beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. And sharing such moments in silence with people who were strangers only days before.
I’ll remember rolling around in a dry riverbank in a fit of laughter so intense it was painful.
I’ll remember the elegant simplicity of life out there. Our days centered around satisfying the bottom rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Our days started by reigniting last night’s smoldering coals; we’d then pack up our shelters- basically a yoga mat underneath a small tarp. Food is just fuel for the day- we’d fill our bellies then fill our packs with the leftovers. Water became our most precious commodity, so our last job before we’d start making tracks was to fill all of our bottles.
Our days’ were spent hiking to our next camp where food, water and firewood awaited. We’d arrive into camp at dusk, and use the remaining light to build our new shelter, scrounge for kindling and dig a shit-pit. Sitting around the campfire at the end of each long day, warmth, shelter food and water all in order, we could relax into some conversation of real value. The lads were funny, honest, vulnerable, inappropriate, offensive, relaxed.
I loved living that way. I think to to some extent our whole group did. When life’s most basic needs are your foremost concern, the complexities that we’d all left behind at home did not exist. Some of these young men had left behind some incredibly difficult circumstances- and a week out bush was never going to change that. The hope is that these young people return home changed in at least some small way for the better. At the very least they will have returned learning a little bit more about themselves.
At home I am greeted by a warm bed, heating at the push of a button, a full pantry and fridge and cold and hot water at the turn of a tap. I also return to a loving family and great friends. I am grateful that my basic needs are satisfied, yet I miss that simple daily struggle to meet them. However, there are things I can change to take elements of my time out bush and incorporate them into my normal life:
- Dig a fire-pit and cook in it.
- Sleep outside under the stars just for the hell of it.
- Walk all day from time to time.
- Sit and enjoy the quiet.
Operation Flinders Mountain Bike Challenge 2019
Throughout the 4 days of the Operation Flinders Mountain Bike Challenge a recurring theme in my thoughts was the relativity of time. From the moment we left the terminal at Adelaide Airport on the Friday morning until we arrived back there on Monday night, we were all completely off the grid. We had no phone or internet connection. Our only form of connection to the rest of the world was a CB Radio, used for location updates to the command centre (and in case of emergency).
It was amazing how slow time passed over those four days. Our days in Yankaninna Station were spent like this: Wake up in our swag; ensure the fire was started and maintained; eat breakfast; tidy up; get dressed to ride; ride from camp A to camp B; arrive at camp B; get changed; eat, drink and chat around the fire; go to sleep under stars; repeat. It was a beautifully simple existence.
Through the days as we rode through stunning terrain we could either quietly enjoy the natural beauty of our surrounds, or chat with our fellow riders. There was plenty of time for each. Most of the participants were strangers to one-another prior to the event. There were a few small groups, but most people only really knew 3 to 4 of the 15+ people that were there for the event. By the end of the fourth day we had united into a real team. We had gotten to know each other well through sharing intimate thoughts and feelings- when you have nothing to do but travel from point to point, then eat, drink and stay warm you have a lot of time to build relationships. And some of the conversations that I had with people who were strangers only a few days ago, I haven’t ever had with long-time friends or even family. When we first met at Adelaide Airport on the Friday there were polite handshakes to introduce ourselves. As we said goodbye on Monday night, there were hugs all round. It was a deeply satisfying trip. I felt relaxed, replenished, rejuvenated.
So what did I learn from this?
I think it is fair to say that most people in our society can relate to this feeling that time is accelerating. That days, weeks, months, even years are careering out of control. Where did the first half of 2019 go? Why is this? Why can 6 months disappear almost in the blink of an eye, yet four days seem like an eternity? Feeling like the to-do list is always longer than manageable and lengthening by two tasks for every one one that we tick-off feels futile and it makes sense that we would feel constantly under pressure. This kind of life is exhausting. At Yankaninna Station we had no choice than to completely disconnect from the rest of the world- but it seems like the pervasive feeling in our society is that we have no choice than to stay permanently connected at all other times. Do we though?
What can you do?
What would happen if you switched your phone off before dinner and didn’t switch it on again until the next morning after breakfast. What if you switched off wi-fi and data-roaming on Friday when you leave the office and used your phone just to make and receive calls and texts from your family and ‘real’ friends. If you were able to do this, what might this do to your perception of time, and pressure? If you couldn’t burn up time mindlessly scrolling through social media pages what might you notice about the world immediately around you? What conversations would you have with your people if your mind wasn’t frequently distracted by alerts from your phone?
No matter how busy you are, you have the ability to find a bit of sanctuary even just for 10 minutes a day by switching off the phone and quietly taking in your surrounds. You can choose to disconnect from the web and completely be with the people you are with. The world will keep turning, it might just seem like it turns a little slower.
About the Author
Yoga is an ancient and complex practice, rooted in Indian philosophy, that originated several thousand years ago. Yoga began as a spiritual practice, as a way of reaching enlightenment, but in Western culture it has become popular as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being.
Although classical yoga also includes other elements, yoga as practiced in the West typically emphasizes physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana). Popular yoga styles such as hatha, iyengar, bikram, and vinyasa yoga focus on these elements. Several traditional yoga styles encourage daily practice with periodic days of rest, whereas others encourage individuals to develop schedules that fit their needs.
What do we know about the effectiveness of yoga?
- National survey results from 2012 show that many people who practice yoga believe that it improves their general well-being, and there is beginning to be evidence that it actually may help with certain aspects of wellness including stress management, positive aspects of mental health, promoting healthy eating and physical activity habits
- Yoga may help relieve low-back pain and neck pain
- There’s promising evidence that yoga may help people with some chronic diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life
- Yoga may help people with diabetes control their blood sugar
- Growing evidence indicates that along with the help of products from Balance Activ, yoga may help women manage both physical and psychological symptoms of menopause
- Yoga may be helpful for anxiety or depressive symptoms associated with difficult life situations
- Yoga may help people to manage sleep problems
- Yoga may be helpful for people who are trying to quit smoking
- Yoga-based interventions may help overweight/obese people lose weight
What do we know about the safety of yoga?
Yoga is generally considered a safe form of physical activity when performed properly, under the guidance of a qualified instructor. Serious injuries are rare, however, as with other types of physical activity, injuries can occur. (One of our honours students, Zoe Toland, is currently working with one of our EPs, to investigate the most common forms of yoga injuries as reported by physiotherapists, yoga teachers and yoga practitioners – we’ll keep you updated with the results!).
The most important thing to remember, as with any exercise, is to listen to the feedback your body gives you and modify and adjust what you’re doing accordingly. We want to push ourselves, and whilst feeling some level of discomfort is okay (think muscle burn and high level of challenge), but pain is our bodies way of saying ‘probably best to not do this’.
People with certain health conditions, older adults, and pregnant women may need to avoid or modify some yoga poses and practices. These individuals should discuss their specific needs with their health care professional/yoga instructor and may be better suited to more clinical yoga classes.
What happens in a yoga class?
Sometimes the biggest thing that stops us from trying something new is not knowing what to expect and fearing we’ll be the awkward newbie! So let’s go through what you can expect from a yoga class (or at least ours!)
- Yoga mats and all the props you will need (a block, a strap, a bolster, a towel) are provided, but you can always bring your own if you would prefer!
- The teacher will introduce themselves and talk about what the focus of the class will be; this could be a range of things from a certain postural focus, or an attention focus, or it could be a focus on the pace of movement
- Classes start with slow, controlled, warm-up type movements and typically move into some more challenging series of movements; you can expect challenges that target strength, balance, range of motion, focus, stability, control and your attitude toward the practice
What you won’t get…
- Spiritual-talk. We’re not dissing the spiritual talk, but we prefer to focus on your physical and mental alignment in class
- Chanting. We get it, it feels a bit weird.
- Basically, anything that’s not evidence-based within the scientific literature, won’t be included in our classes (e.g., chakras, lifestyle choices)
How often should I practice yoga?
The recommended frequency and duration of yoga sessions varies depending on the condition being treated. In general, studies examining yoga have included weekly or twice weekly 60- to 90-minute classes. For some studies, classes are shorter, but there are more classes per week. So whilst the research evidence is inconclusive, we think that any form of exercise that is challenging strength through range of motion, and providing you with a form of mindfulness is a great addition to your weekly activities!
Our recommendation: as much or as little as suits your body’s needs and fits in with your weekly schedule.
iNform’s NEW Clinical Yoga Classes!
We are super excited to be launching clinical yoga classes at the end of May, at our new Malvern clinic! Classes will run on Thursday mornings and evenings, for a duration of 45 minutes and will be run by our Exercise Physiologist and Yoga Teacher: Jacinta Brinsley. Jacinta is also completing a PhD in the area of yoga and mental health/mental illness.
If you have any questions, want further information, or want to book in for a yoga class – fill out this form
About the Author
What makes YOU exercise? (Other than your trainer)
We all know that exercise is good for us. Some of us exercise for particular reasons and to get certain benefits over others. Whilst some of us exercise with goals in mind like running a half marathon or just being able to pick up our grandkids. Or it might just be that this our time for ourselves each week. Whatever the reason you exercise, and whatever form of exercise you do, for whatever amount of time you do it for; I pat you on the back for the fact that you do it!
The World Health Organisation has released some fresh data last week showing almost one third (30.4%) of Australians aren’t getting enough exercise. Out of 168 countries, we ranked 97th for the % of population being sufficiently active. Which is scary considering physical inactivity is so highly associated with chronic health problems.
Just one type of exercise we do: Resistance Training (aka strength training or weight training)
This is what most clients at iNform typically spend the majority of their session doing. It can look like anything from body weighted strength, focusing on alignment and control, to lifting very heavy weights only a handful of times. The person that hasn’t broken a sweat all session, and the person that is drenched in sweat at the end of the session – have both engaged in strength training. It looks completely different for everyone. That’s the beautiful thing about strength training, it can be adapted and individualised just for you and your body’s specific needs.
For those who are reading this that are regulars at iNform, you will know better than anyone the effects that training with us has. Hopefully from brightening your mood and giving you a giggle, to helping increase your body awareness, getting you stronger and facilitating better movement throughout life’s activities. But for those who maybe don’t know all of the amazing benefits that strength training alone can have on your body; I have made a nerdy little list below. Please feel free to share this with your friends and family members who maybe aren’t quite convinced on exercise, there’s something in here for everyone!
Your 30 minute session at iNform…
- Improve focus
- Improve cognitive function
- Decrease anxiety
- Decrease depressive symptoms
- Improve feelings of well-being
- Increases self-esteem
- Decreases risk of dementia
- Decrease markers of inflammation (particularly in people who are overweight)
- Decrease cholesterol
- Decrease blood pressure
- Improve insulin-swings for those with type 2 diabetes
- Improves insulin-sensitivity
- Boosts metabolic rate
- Reverse ageing factors in mitochondria and muscles
- Increases bone mineral density (and prevents bone loss)
- Increases muscle mass
- Improves movement control
- Reduces chronic lower back pain
- Reduces arthritic pain
- Reduces pain from fibromyalgia
And I guarantee I have left some benefits out.
How can you get all these benefits, plus more? (we didn’t even look at the benefits of aerobic exercise!)
If you would like to start getting more out of your resistance training sessions, or if you’re wanting to start resistance training but you have some niggles that bother you, I recommend getting in touch with one of our amazing movement specialists who can help find the right exercises for you!
If you would like more information on particular benefits and which study I sourced it from, feel free to email me at: email@example.com.
About the Author
It’s natural and normal to feel depressed at times, particularly and especially when, life throws you a curve ball. Whether it’s the ending of a relationship, a death in the family, the loss of a job, or even just adjusting to different circumstances. Depression is a mood state, just like happy, excited or sad. Across the spectrum of symptoms, there are distinctly different types of depression. From not being able to eat or sleep, to eating too much and feeling too fatigued to even get out of bed. If depression was a colour it would come in all shades, in all colours.
Exercise and Depression: Nature’s Anti-depressant
A recent meta-analysis found that engaging in physical activity could reduce your chances of developing depression by 17%. We also know that typically exercise has a large effect on reducing symptoms of depression, and this includes activities like resistance training, yoga, bouldering (rock climbing), cycling, swimming and running. A well known study done in 1999 at Duke University even concluded that exercise was as effective as medication in relieving symptoms of depression!
Luckily exercise and physical activity also comes in a full spectrum of colours, too. From walking to work in the morning, or going for a run in your lunch break, to signing up for a yoga class or going to a boxing session with a mate. There is a type of exercise for everyone, and every type of exercise can be adapted to the intensity which you like best! You can exercise alone, or with a friend, or with a bunch of strangers. You can exercise indoors or outdoors. You can literally make it whatever you want!
I say all of this because I think the words ‘exercise’ or ‘physical activity’ bring to mind images of stereotypical types of exercise, like being in a gym or being outside running, which can put a lot of people off straight away. A better term to use would be movement. And our bodies were made to move, our physiology and particularly our neurophysiology (our brain) NEEDS us to move in order for us to feel good. (If you want to read more about this, read my stress blog).
Working Out Depression
Are you sure exercise is going to make me feel better…? (Yep!)
Exercise releases endorphins (anti-stress hormones), 40 types of them to be exact. One of the effects these have is that they calm the brain and relieve muscle pain during strenuous exercise (hence why Superman can lift cars up!). Exercise also regulates all of the same neurotransmitters targeted by antidepressants.
For starters, it immediately elevates norepinephrine, waking up the brain and getting it going. As well as improving self-esteem, which is one component of depression. Exercise boosts dopamine, which improves mood and feelings of wellness, and jump-starts the attention system. Dopamine is important because it is all about driving motivation and attention, that’s why they say getting started is the hardest part!
Exercise also increases BDNF which protects neurons against cortisol in areas that control mood, including the hippocampus. It encourages neurons to connect and grow, and it vital for neuroplasticity and neurogenesis (keeping our brain young and adaptable)!
In addition to feeling good when you exercise, you feel good about yourself, and that has a positive effect that can’t be traced to a particular chemical or area in the brain. We know that norepinephrine and serotonin, which are both boosted with exercise, act on the limbic system (the amygdala, the hypothalamus and the hippocampus) which is responsible for things like how we perceive and regulate our emotions. Even small doses of exercises are effective at improving peoples quality of life and psychosocial functioning.
The best exercises for reducing/preventing depressive symptoms are:
A recent study suggests that exercising between 3 and 5 times a week for 30-60 minutes is associated with better mental health, and team sports, cycling, aerobic and gym exercise came in at the top for types of exercise associated with better mental health.
Resistance training has also shown to have a large impact on reducing depressive symptoms, particularly when supervised by a health professional and lasting shorter than 45 minutes. You can read more on this in James’ blogs here and here.
If you’ve been feeling down and you start to exercise and feel better, the sense that you’re going to be OK and that you can count on yourself shifts your entire attitude. The stability of the routine alone can dramatically improve mood. So next time you feel flat do the smart thing, the thing that future you will appreciate, and move your body (even if it’s just out of the house!). And if motivation or accountability is the issue, why not train with an Exercise Physiologist or another qualified health professional?
Exercise is not an instant cure, but if you move your body your mood basically won’t have a choice!
- It’s important to keep expectations reasonable
- Exercise outside, or in an environment that stimulates your senses
- Exercise with somebody
- Something is better than nothing!
- Try to form an exercise routine – this adds to feelings of stability
About the Author