The Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Nature and Art

There is something so majestic about the sight of an undisturbed natural landscape. Many people also experience feelings of awe when looking at a piece of art, listening to a musical performance, or participating in a spiritual experience.

According to new research, these feelings of awe and wonder can do more than illuminate the grand mystery of our universe: they can also help lower inflammation.

The study, performed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, consisted of two experiments, involving over 200 young adult participants. The participants were surveyed on various days on various emotions they were experiencing. The focus was on emotions that were positive, including awe, compassion, pride and love.

Along with analyzing their emotional states, researchers also took samples of cheek and gum tissue from the participants, to measure their levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. High levels of these cytokines, including Interleukin 6, which was tested for in the study, indicate high levels of inflammation in the body.

Inflammation is the immune system’s natural response to any threat, whether it is real or perceived. In case of injury or another short-term stressor, inflammation can be very beneficial, as it helps protect the body from harm. When inflammation becomes chronic, however, it can lead to many chronic health issues, included but not limited to heart disease, autoimmune illnesses, type 2 diabetes, depression, eczema and arthritis.

Results of the UC Berkeley study showed that the participants who reported positive emotions, especially wonder, amazement and awe, had the lowest levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine, Interleukin 6, on the same day that they felt these emotions.

Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at UC Berkeley who co-authored the study, said, “that awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions – a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art – has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy.”

Jennifer Stellar, the study’s lead author, added, “awe is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore, suggesting antithetical behavioral responses to those found during inflammation, where individuals typically withdraw from others in their environment.”

flowersAs we have extensively reported, if we wish to avoid chronic inflammation, we need to eat whole, heatlhy foods, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and keep our stress in check. This study adds cultivating feelings of awe and wonder to that list. This may seem a bit abstract, but really, it’s simple.

If you’re finding yourself stuck in a rut, without much wonder in your life, there is a lot you can do:

  • Weather permitting, go on a long walk or hike – just you and nature. Clear your mind and focus on nothing but the beauty around you.
  • During the winter, an afternoon skate, or some time on some naturally beautiful slopes, can also bring the awe-effect.
  • Go to an art museum or gallery and check out some new artists. If visual art isn’t your thing, try sculpture galleries, architecture showcases or theatrical performances.
  • Attend a poetry reading, or a live show of music, that makes you feel inspired.
  • Take a trip to a place you’ve always wanted to go, and enjoy taking in the new sights and sounds.

However you get in touch with your own sense of awe, make it a priority to cultivate. Not only does it make life that much more magical, it can improve your health, too.

-The Alternative Daily


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