The Importance of Nature for Human and Dog Health

May 12, 2021

We know that physical exercise is one of the pillars of health for our canine friends but getting outside, benefits both them and us in more ways than one. Here at My Pet Nutritionist, we advocate a holistic approach to health and well-being, so let’s go a little off the beaten track, and take a step back from nutrition per se for a moment.

Did you know that being in nature reduces scores of anxiety and depression?

Our species has existed for thousands upon thousands of years – but even the oldest cities have only been around a fraction of that! What this means is that we largely evolved in nature, and this environment therefore shaped our brains – for want of a better phrase, going back to nature almost takes us back to our roots.  

What the data says:

-       Being in nature is seen to improve sleep scores

-       Spending time in green spaces simply makes us happier

-       Mental stress scores significantly reduce when we live in urban areas with increased green spaces

-       Time in nature improves our relationships with others and also cognitive functioning

Findings here

Findings here

Findings here

Not only that, but it is thought that exposure to green spaces reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death and high blood pressure.

Findings here

Spending time outside is also beneficial for our microbiomes.

Nature and The Microbiome  

The skin can be seen as an ecosystem, composed of living biological and physical components occupying diverse habitats. Disruptions of this ecosystem can result in skin in disorders or infections. These issues call the immune system to action, creating inflammation. Sadly, chronic inflammation is linked to a range of issues throughout the body.  

Exposure to toxins can disrupt this ecosystem, but it can become imbalanced simply by not having exposure to enough of the “good guys!”  

We can find these good guys outside, in nature. It is well established that those who live in rural locations possess more diverse bacteria on their skin.  

But this similarly applies to the microbiome found in the lungs too!  

A particular study wanted to explore the impact of nature on allergic disease suffered in the lungs. Two groups of mice were housed, one group with potted soil, one with sterile bedding. Mice who had lived on clean bedding were more susceptible to developing lung inflammation in response to asthma-triggering allergens than those housed with soil!  

As an aside, in this particular study, those housed with soils also scored lower on standard stress tests.  

Findings here

In short, what is concluded is that exposure to soil supports immune tolerance and stress resilience.  

It is clear that being in nature is beneficial to both our physical and mental health – not only for the rewards of movement. The same applies to our dogs.

Nature and Our Dogs

We know that exercise improves cardiovascular health and more, but we don’t always have to exercise our dogs when outside. Yes, we said it. Stick with us a moment.    

Dogs use their nose to explore their environment, and what is particularly interesting is that after activity, their sniffing capacity significantly reduces.

Findings here

This also applies if they are stressed,stress results in the same physiological responses as activity in many ways. Therefore, it’s clear that getting outside and allowing your dog to “just be” and explore their environment, is of benefit to them.  

If we return to those studies on mice - as dogs sniff, they are exposing themselves to more diverse bacteria, which could potentially support their immune tolerance. Nose breathing also stimulates the vagus nerve, which as we know is the chief of the parasympathetic nervous system – this is why we often hear that allowing a dog to sniff lowers their heart rate.  

The simple exposure to soils through their paws and fur can also be of benefit to their whole body.

Dogs groom themselves, so the soil they have walked through, is then potentially ingested. The good bugs can help support a diverse community, but this same mechanism occurs with soil laced in pesticide and exposure to harmful pesticides can result in dysbiosis.

This is one of the main concerns facing us.  

Many countries are managing to significantly reduce their usage of pesticides, but others are increasing it. For example, Armenia have seen a 2650% increase in pesticide use since 1990. USA have seen a 125% increase in use. In the UK, we have reduced usage by 34%!

Findings here

If you would like to explore more about how pesticides and more affect the microbiomes in our dogs, check out our blogs here,

And here.

On the subject of toxins – rural air has significantly less air pollution than that found in urban locations. It is believed that half of the world’s population are exposed to increasing levels. Findings here

Trees remove pollutants from the air and plants are often seen as the “lungs” of an ecosystem because they absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. They also act as an ecosystem’s “liver,” filtering atmospheric pollutants like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide through their leaves.

Trees are particularly effective at removing particulate matter (PM).  PM comes in the form of tiny particles of organic chemicals, acids, metals and dust which are emitted from fossil-fuel-burning vehicles and factories, as well as construction sites.

The largest of these particles measure up to 10 micrometers across (known as PM10s), which is around a fifth of the width of a human hair. There are also PM2.5s, measuring 2.5 micrometres across, being even smaller nanoparticle pollution.

Fine particulate matter can easily permeate the respiratory system, causing lung and cardiovascular issues, but it has also been linked to inflammation and heart disease, so reduced exposure is particularly important and trees can help us here!  

Summary

It is clear that spending time in nature ticks all boxes for all our bodily systems; it supports immune function,cardiovascular health, mental health and more! Dog walks as exercise are necessary – but dog walks in nature are justas important, for our dogs and us. Be mindful of pesticide exposure for your dog and remember the rule of the wild – leave no trace (so stock up on poop bags!).

Thanks for reading!

Lisa x

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