Step Outside and Into Nature for a Healthier Life with Diabetes August 16, 2012

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By Mindy Heath

Heat drives many of us indoors during our hot Texas summer. Did you know that leaving the comfort of air conditioning to be outdoors has some profound health benefits? Studies show that spending more time outside, especially in a wooded environment:

  • Reduces stress and promotes relaxation
  • Boosts immunity
  • Lowers blood pressure

Persons with diabetes can certainly appreciate the little things that can help improve their health. Simply stepping outside to enjoy the great outdoors can help. So how does this work exactly?

Relaxation and Stress Reduction

Outdoor plants and trees emit an airborne chemical called phytoncide. This chemical protects the plant from decay and harmful insects, but people benefit too! Studies show that increased exposure to phytoncides is consistent with decreased heart rate and physical stress. Thanks to phytoncide, just one hour among the plants and trees can make you more relaxed.

Over time, diabetes can be a stressful disease to manage. The responsibilities of checking blood sugars, meal planning, taking medications or insulin injections can become overwhelming. That's why finding ways to alleviate stress is important. Taking a stroll outside or even a passive outdoor activity, such as bird watching, can be a part of a strategy to increase relaxation and reduce stress.

Increased Immune Function

Not only is a forest environment peaceful and beautiful, but it can also boast immune function. The human immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body from attacks by "foreign" invaders. These invaders are typically viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi.

The immune system has an arsenal of many types of cells, one of which is the natural killer cell, or NK cell. NK cells are usually the first line of defense against cancer cells and viral infections. Their job: seek and destroy. Studies show that phytoncides also increase NK cell activity. An increase in NK cell activity means a stronger immune system. Just one trip to a wooded park can boast your immune system for up to 30 days.

Blood Pressure Reduction

Vitamin D is obtained from the sun through the skin. It helps your body to absorb calcium so it can build and maintain strong bones. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Items such as milk, breakfast cereals and orange juice are often fortified with the nutrient. Vitamin D needs are most easily met through sunlight. Anywhere from 5-30 minutes of sunlight twice a week can provide your body with enough vitamin D.

Can vitamin D do more than help your body build strong bones? Vitamin D has been linked to heart health, but until now there had been little scientific evidence that increasing the vitamin made a difference. A new study from Europe shows that by getting enough vitamin D, you can also help to lower high blood pressure.

The Bottom Line

Access to green spaces provide more than beautiful scenery, it can improve your health! Take advantage of a nearby park or nature preserve to reap the health benefits Mother Nature has provided.

On the Go Snack: Homemade Granola Bars

Makes 16 bars

A granola bar can be a perfect outdoor snack. Many of the granola bars found in grocery stores are more like a candy bar rather than a healthy treat. Making your own will help to control the sugary ingredients that may cause the dreaded spike in blood glucose.

1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. all natural peanut butter (chunky or regular)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. traditional rolled oats
1/4 c. dried cranberries
1/4 c. dried apricots, chopped or other dried fruit
2 tbsp. coconut (optional)
2 tbsp. raw sunflower seeds
2 tbsp. slivered almonds
2 tbsp. sesame seeds (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the honey, peanut butter and vanilla in a glass bowl. Heat on high in microwave for 45 seconds. Remove from microwave and stir. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Turn the warmed peanut butter mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring until well mixed. Do not grease the eight-inch cake pan. Press the mixture into the pan and bake for 10- 15 minutes or until light golden brown.

Nutritional Information per serving: 150 Calories, 14 gm carbohydrate (1 carb choice), 10 gm fiber, 9 gm total fat, 1.3 gm dietary fiber and 22 mg sodium

Ask The Birding Expert!

Birding as a recreational activity offers physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits to all participants, including persons with diabetes. Join Jane Tillman and Seton Diabetes Education Center to learn about the health benefits of birding and to identify some feathered visitors to local bird baths by sight and song. Jane will also share strategies to attract birds to your backyard and will introduce you to local resources and organizations if you choose to become more active in urban birding here in Austin.

Jane Tillman is an active member of the Travis Audubon Society, a Capital Area Master Naturalist and a National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward Host. Jane was recently named the National Wildlife Federation's Habitat Volunteer of the Year in 2011, for her work creating backyard wildlife habitat here in Austin, coordinating the annual 26 hour Habitat Steward's training for community volunteers. She gardens for wildlife, and was fortunate to have a rare Green Violetear hummingbird visit her yard in 2008.

Event Details:
Date: Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Time: 6:30 to 7:00 pm Dinner and Informal Networking
7:00 to 8:00 pm Presentation and Interactive Discussion
Location: Seton Diabetes Education Center, 5555 North Lamar Blvd, Austin 78751
Space is limited. Advanced registration is required! To register: Online: Call 512/324-1891 and select option 2 to enroll with one of our schedulers.

About the Author

Mindy Heath is a volunteer at Seton Diabetes Education Center and a student in the Didactic Program in Dietetics at The University of Texas at Austin. She has a special interest in diabetes management and will be working as a diabetes camp counselor later this summer.

Seton Diabetes Education Center will offer a free diabetes educational seminar on Birding as a healthy outdoor activity for persons with diabetes on August 29. Jane Tillman, member of the Travis Audubon Society, a Capital Area Master Naturalist and a National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward Host will speak on the health benefits of birding and introduce participants to basic bird identification. She will also talk about attracting birds to your backyard. The event is free of charge, but advanced registration is required. Enroll online at

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