Mimi Guarneri tells us the truth about our health and interacting with nature

Read this great article written by our L3 Health and Wellness Alliance, Dr Mimi Guarneri.

You can find the original post here.

The Health Effects of Interacting with Nature

Let us begin the next season in reverence of nature and its effects on human physiology. I’m aware of calling your attention to articles that seem to offer evidence for what we should intuitively know, but the society of medicine demands proof—sometimes for what seems obvious—before standardizing recommendations. Once again, I thank Dr. Ted Schettler and the Collaborative on Health and the Environment’s work for sharing this article.

In this gorgeous National Geographic article written by Florence Williams in and photographed by Lucas Foglia, entitled, “This is Your Brain on Nature”, the work of University of Utah researcher, David Strayer, PhD, is highlighted, in addition to other studies that demonstrate significant benefit from living near and/or experiencing nature. Strayer asserts, “Our brains aren’t tireless three-pound machines; they’re easily fatigued When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too.” Strayer has demonstrated this concept with a group of Outward Bound participants, who performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking.

Strayer’s work has built on large scale research studies demonstrating that modern public health problems such as obesity, heart disease, asthma, migraines, diabetes and depression are positively correlated with distance from green space. Metrics such as stress hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, EEG patterns, protein markers, mortality rates and more, indicate that time spent in green space has a favorable impact on health. Richard Mitchell, an epidemiologist at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, did a large study that found less death and disease in people who lived near parks or other green space—even if they didn’t use them. “Our own studies plus others show these restorative effects whether you’ve gone for walks or not,” Mitchell says. Moreover, the lowest income people seemed to gain the most: In the city, Mitchell found, being close to nature is a social leveler.

The prevailing theory is that nature mitigates the stress response. Compared with people who have less favorable window views, those who can see trees and grass have been shown to recover faster in hospitals, perform better in school, and even display less violent behavior. Measurements of stress hormones, respiration, heart rate, and sweating suggest that short doses of nature—or even pictures of the natural world—can calm people down and sharpen their performance. Researcher Yoshifumi Miyazaki at Chiba University believes our bodies relax in pleasant, natural surroundings because they evolved there. Our senses are adapted to interpret information about plants and streams, he says, not traffic and high-rises.

The prevailing theory is that nature mitigates the stress response. Measurements of stress hormones, respiration, heart rate, and sweating suggest that short doses of nature—or even pictures of the natural world—can calm people down and sharpen their performance. 

Nooshin Razani at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California, is one of several doctors who have noticed the emerging data on nature and health. As part of a pilot project, she’s training pediatricians in the outpatient clinic to write prescriptions for young patients and their families to visit nearby parks, an ‘intervention’ that is becoming increasingly common, and is a response to Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by AIHM Conference Faculty, Richard Louv.

Korea Forest Service scientists used to study timber yields; now they also distill essential oils from trees such as the hinoki cypress and study them for their ability to reduce stress hormones and asthma symptoms. Indeed, forest bathing is a practice that recognizes the positive health effects of exposure to phytochemicals when we breathe them in while visiting a forest.

Korean researchers have used functional MRI to observe brain activity in people viewing different images. When the volunteers were looking at urban scenes, their brains showed more blood flow in the amygdala, which processes fear and anxiety. In contrast, the natural scenes lit up the anterior cingulate and the insula—areas associated with empathy and altruism.


Williams comments, “Maybe nature makes us nicer as well as calmer. It may also make us nicer to ourselves.” Stanford researcher Greg Bratman and his colleagues scanned the brains of 38 volunteers before and after they walked for 90 minutes, either in a large park or on a busy street in downtown Palo Alto. The nature walkers, but not the city walkers, showed decreased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex—a part of the brain tied to depressive rumination—and from their own reports, the nature walkers beat themselves up less. Nature, he says, may influence “how you allocate your attention and whether or not you focus on negative emotions.”

Imagine a therapy that had no known side effects, was readily available, and could improve your cognitive functioning at zero cost. It exists, and it’s called “interacting with nature.” 

Stephen Kaplan and his colleagues found that a 50-minute walk in an arboretum improved executive attention skills, such as short-term memory, while walking along a city street did not. “Imagine a therapy that had no known side effects, was readily available, and could improve your cognitive functioning at zero cost,” the researchers wrote in their paper. It exists, they continued, and it’s called “interacting with nature.”

Need more evidence? I don’t. I’m going outside for a walk in the woods and hope you do the same (and often)!

Blessings on your journey,

Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, ABIHM, AIHM President

What does the population of the US look like?

Watch a short animation from Business Insider that puts the entire US population into perspective. Here’s how the country would break down if it were a village of just 100 people.

McLean Hospital Horizons Publication

McLean Hospital is one of L3 Health Alliance partners, check out their latest news below.


blog2Philanthropy Drives Research in Geriatric Psychiatry

Like so often in philanthropy, the Rogers Family Foundation’s giving began with the personal and grew into something far-reaching and sustaining.

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Dr. David H. Rosmarin’s mission is to treat the whole patient.

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blog4Manton Foundation Funds State-of-the-Art MRI Scanner

Scott Lukas, PhD, director of the McLean Imaging Center, can barely contain his excitement when describing McLean’s new 3 Tesla PRISMA MRI scanner.

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blog5Question and Answer: Brent P. Forester, MD, MSc

With the August launch of the Center of Excellence in Geriatric Psychiatry, the hospital completed its strategic goal of fully integrating patient care, research and educational activities into seven programmatically based centers.

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Read why Betsy and Ralph Gordon have chosen to include McLean in their estate planning.

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Veterans Need More than Your Thanks

Photo: Bossi, Flickr

Photo: Bossi, Flickr

Memorial day means that we remember our fallen soldiers, but a simple ‘Thanks’ is not always enough.  This article from USA Today that explains some extra things we can do to help our current veterans.

Ask questions and listen to the answers. I wish I’d done that with my friend before his suicide.

As a kid, I’d sneak into my dad’s closet to look at hisMameluke sword and Ka-Bar knife. I was fascinated by the brains-over-brawn message of the Marine recruiting poster he hung in our garage — a Trojan horse with the slogan, “Superior Thinking Has Always Overwhelmed Superior Force.” Years later, I spent a college semester in Spain while I considered attending law school upon graduation. On my second day of class, I went jogging through the narrow streets of Seville, where I lived in a small apartment with my host family. I arrived home to find the grandmother glued to CNN en Espanol. There was a building on fire somewhere. As I looked more closely, I recognized the Twin Towers.

I returned to Austin just before Christmas and spent the holidays with my family before visiting the campus recruiter and volunteering for Officer Candidate School. By 2006, I was on my second deployment to Iraq, as a first lieutenant on a small team of Marines providing logistics support — bullets, beans and Band-Aids — for an infantry battalion nicknamed the “First of the First.” On the nightly resupply convoys we referred to as the “Combat Train,” our team delivered ammo, medical supplies, hot meals, mail and cigarettes to the brave grunts doing the fighting.

These days, I don’t wake up as early, shave as often or worry as much. I’ve traded in my rifle and utilities for a laptop and business suit and, as a corporate PR professional, I help companies navigate complex financial situations. When one of my clients merges with another company, I counsel them to begin the process of integrating the two sides’ operations and cultures by asking a few fundamental questions: How is the other company different? What are their concerns about being part of a new organization? How can we help? Only by first understanding their counterparts’ perspectives can they design a road map for joint success. Sounds simple, right?

We can actually use these same questions to help veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reintegrate into our cities and communities: What have they been through? What are their concerns about transitioning back to civilian life? How can I help? We rightly focus on welcoming them back into our world, but are we doing enough to understand theirs?

At any given time since 9/11, less than 1% of the country has served on active duty — the smallest percentage since the isolationist years between World War I and World War II. Unlike the latter, when the entire country mobilized, or the Vietnam War, when the draft reached across American households and made the war a personal affair, today most Americans can’t relate. They don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything other than perhaps a “thank you.”

My friend Sean took his own life three years ago after struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. He hadn’t been wounded, not physically. Whip-smart, charismatic and funny, Sean was enrolled in graduate school and seemed to those of us who had lost touch to be doing fine. I think a lot about what, for me, were the halcyon days and months we spent in California after coming home from Iraq. I remember him laughing as we sped along a winding road in his new sports car. Looking back, I wonder whether that car and that drive were just two of the many distractions he sought from what was bothering him. I wish I had asked him if he was OK.

If you meet any veterans on the street, in a restaurant or at an airport, buy them a beer and start a conversation. An act as simple as lending a sympathetic ear for 30 minutes might give them an outlet they didn’t know they had. Thank them for their service, but do more than that. If you don’t know what to say, remember this: They probably don’t, either. Ask them where they served, and what they liked and didn’t like about the military. Ask them about their transition to civilian life, what they need and how you can help. Then sit back and listen. What you hear might surprise you.

About 2.7 million veterans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes repeatedly. At least 970,000 have a recognized physical or psychological disability, and others have hidden scars.

We’re still at war, but this time the enemy is silence, and we can’t win without your help.

Update from our Health Alliance Partner, UCSF

blog00 April 2016

Bluestone to Head New Parker Cancer Immunotherapy Institute


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The Parker Foundation with a $250 million grant has launched the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, a collaboration among more than 40 labs and 300 researchers from the nation’s leading cancer centers. Among the six centers is UC San Francisco, and UCSF’s Jeff Bluestone, PhD, will serve as the institute’s CEO and president. Read more

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Scientists Find Molecular Link Between Zika and Microcephaly


Zika organoid

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UN Special Envoy on TB: UCSF Professor Eric Goosby

Eric Goosby

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UCSF Saddened by Loss of Andy Grove (1936-2016)

Andy Grove

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The UC San Francisco community mourns the passing of Andrew Grove, PhD, a Silicon Valley pioneer who applied his drive for innovation to advancements in health care and the treatment of cancer and Parkinson’s disease. He helped lead fundraising efforts that proved integral to establishing the UCSF Mission Bay campus. Read more

Video: Mark Ryder Shows How to Bring Magic to the Classroom

Students in Mark Ryder's class

Students in Mark Ryder’s class

Periodontal disease is no fun, but that doesn’t mean learning about it can’t be. For more than 35 years, Mark Ryder, DMD, a professor in the School of Dentistry’s Department of Orofacial Sciences, has been devoted to engaging his students during long lectures. His trick is performing magic routines to illustrate complex scientific concepts. Read more