Recognizing the physical and psychological benefits of connecting with nature.

Health and wellness, both physical and mental, is a growing concern for many of us — especially in light of the difficulties of recent years. Everyone has a theory and what they think is a solution — from extreme diet trends to medications and supplements. But what if a key to improving our health and well-being were right outside the door?

Groups and individuals across Jefferson City are exploring the power of green spaces and nature in healing and improving the health of people in all stages and walks of life. Rhonda Myers, a licensed professional counselor at Capital Region Medical Center and master gardener, is currently studying horticulture therapy to do just that. Introducing plants into our lives provides numerous benefits.

“Looking at a plant in your office creates microbreaks from stress and concentration,” Rhonda says.

Even a short walk around the neighborhood or through the area’s many parks and trails is impactful. The mental rest lowers stress hormones like cortisol and raises beneficial feel-good hormones like serotonin. The end result is a healthier body and mind with in-creased production and effectiveness in our work and daily lives. While bringing houseplants into our lives and taking walks with our families or four-legged friends is a great place to start, Rhonda also recommends the bene-fits of working directly with the soil.

“A microorganism in soil and compost works with the body to boost serotonin and acts as an antidepressant,”she says.

Gardening comes with many other benefits, too. It’s an exercise in mindfulness, allowing us to be present while doing simple physical tasks like weeding and digging. Sunlight also supplies us with essential vitamin D, and for people growing their own vegetables, they’re also eating healthier! Excess produce can be gifted or traded with neighbors, creating stronger relationships and a chance to socialize. Rhonda is currently working with a food pantry that allows groups to donate their excess produce to community members who can’t grow their own Many other professionals are working to use plants to help people as well.

“Exposure to green spaces may help students with challenges like ADD and ADHD,” Rhonda says. “Evidence suggests that being around and working with plants can improve attention span and classroom performance.”

The Central Missouri Master Gardeners are also involved with the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City to create a program that shows youth how to plant, grow, harvest, and even use fresh produce.

“Nursing homes are introducing gardens because of evidence that working with plants and soil can reduce some of the degenerative effects of aging, such as memory loss and dementia,” Rhonda adds.

Even a short walk around the neighborhood or through the area’s many parks and trails is impactful.

Aside from gardening, just stepping outside can provide all kinds of benefits. Rhonda recommends using the five senses in a grounding practice. You can just stand in nature or even remove your shoes to allow your bare feet to touch the Earth. Then, pay attention to five things you can see, four you can feel, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste (even if you just inhale through your mouth and taste the air).

“When you do this, your mind is moving itself away from the trauma and chaos of the world and engaging and connecting with a peaceful balance,” Rhonda says.

Whether you’re looking for a bit of green space and fresh air or want to jump into gardening or foraging,Jefferson City boasts a wealth of resources. The Missouri Department of Conservation, the Master Gardeners group, JC Parks, and most university extension programs can provide information and resources to get you started.

As you’re venturing out into all the life-giving wonder that waits right outside your home, just make sure to keep a few things in mind. Outdoor allergies can be a problem, and you may need to work with your doctor to control them if they’re severe. Also, if you’re bringing plants in from outside, watch for any pests that might come along for the ride. Plants enhance our lives — insect infestations, not so much. Be cautious about any chemical pesticides and fertilizers that you might come in contact with.And finally, don’t fall down the horticultural rabbit hole.

“It’s easy to get lost in all the fun trappings of gardening and destroy your budget,” Rhonda says. “With so many local resources available, reconnecting with plants and greenery doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor!

15 Ways to Connect with Nature:
Pick wildflowers; Walk on the Greenway; Take nature photos; Picnic outdoors; Walk barefoot in the grass; Build a campfire; Watch a sunrise or sunset; Buy house plants; Pick up litter; Go stargazing; Plant a tree; Meditate outside; Get a bird feeder; Sketch an outdoor scene; Hike at a state park