Reflecting on Earth Day

Maria Perez-Johnson, D.O.

Emergency Department physician, The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine  

On this Earth Day, “Nature is my medicine,” Sara Moss Wolfe said, and, yes, it is mine as well.  As Albert Einstein stated, “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” Some days that reassurance is all it takes to relax and make things better.  Indeed, after a long shift of 12 hours all I ever want to do is go outside.  It doesn’t matter what time of the day or night my shift ends, just coming out of this institutional building yields relief.  Taking a deep breath the minute I walk outside into the real world takes me away from any pain or suffering that I may have encountered and I can sense the release of stress and tension lift away and yield clarity.  I am sure most can agree that after a stifling day at work the drive home can be relaxing.  Seeing the sunrise, the blue sky, the clouds or even rain can put all things into perspective and instill in us the wonder of how small indeed we are in the grand scheme of this fabulous world we live in.

In observance of Earth Day, medical providers can express to patients the value of spending time in the great outdoors.  We comprehend the medicinal value of 15 minutes of sunlight and the need for that Vitamin D.  We know that longevity is tied to exercise and better health, and we all have personally experienced the relief of stress as we sit on the beach and watch the waves come in repetitively.  Yet, the emphasis of health care can often overlook the simple pleasures that nature can bring and for many of our patients it is an all or none response. 

For example, I personally have a bad right knee. After arthroscopic surgery a few years ago, I gave up running.  While this lack of exercise has had some impact in the size of my jeans, I have yet to find another activity that gives me as much pleasure and one that is as effective as running was for my soul and waistline. I do, however, walk regularly albeit probably not as much as I should.  These brief encounters around my neighborhood are a fabulous reprieve from the indoors.   “A vigorous walk will do more good for an unhappy, but otherwise healthy adult, than all the medicine or psychology in the world,” said Paul Dudley White, MD. And as reaffirmed by Hippocrates: “Nature is the healer of disease,” we know that these moments are necessary for health. So how do we encourage our patients to take part in the great outdoors?  I personally had to change the perception that I had to run five miles in order to be healthy. Now I look for other venues to encourage health.

Last year, I moved into a home that had raised garden beds, I started gardening and found it has great unexpected medical benefits and in fact it has been shown to be just as effective as exercise (WebMD).  Some proven benefits include the following:

  • Increased exposure to vitamin D – required 15 minutes of daily sunshine is easy to acquire
  • Improves mood – satisfaction with obtaining fresh home grown vegetables
  • Decreases dementia risk
  • Aerobic exercise – pulling weeds is hard!
  • A sense of connection to the Earth
  • Goal setting – finding something to look forward to. Gardening has given me a connection to the world. 

“She dances between worlds with her healing medicine, bridging the gap between mankind and mother Earth” – Shikoba.

Indeed, gardening, has made me appreciate the beauty of the Earth, how it yields fruit and sustenance with the help of my hand, and allows me to marvel at the cycle of life.

The Earth is our mother and our healer, without her, lost would be countless cures.  Indeed many have yet to be discovered, but we punish and exploit Mother Earth as we clearly do not see the impact our civilized world has on her.  So how can we make an impact and what simple things can we do or ask our patients to do?

  • Turn off the lights every time you leave the room
  • Unplug devices and turn off electronics when not in use
  • Buy locally grown produce 
  • Try carpooling or public transport instead of driving
  • Use reusable shopping bags 
  • Fix leaky taps and turn off water when not using it
  • Switch from disposable to reusable
    Recycle and reuse as much as you can
  • Find a way to plant a tree in your neighborhood
  • Upgrade your appliances to energy-efficient ones
  • Learn more about climate change, advocate for our Earth and its people, attend a farmers’ market, support ethical trade, be the change.

For “the Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth” – Chief Seattle

And remember any time in the outdoors experiencing the beauty of nature and its glory is time well spent.

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