22 Aug Our Health and the Importance of Living in Symbiosis with the Seasons
The only thing we can be sure of in life is change. Nature itself exists in a continuous loop of transformation. As the seasons change, the natural world regenerates and all of the life within it endures in symbiosis–except modern humans.
Humans are part of nature but we’ve removed ourselves from it by spending most of our time inside–more than 90 percent, to be exact. We no longer feel the true effects of the seasons in our climate-controlled buildings. And today’s routines are nearly Orwellian–coffee, car, work, and meals are expected at the same time every day. And most people are too overwhelmed, exhausted, and anxious to confront the critical challenges we face as a human family.
This is why we don’t feel good. This is why we are feeling older than we know we should.
However, if we re-learn how the natural cycles in our world impact our well-being, we can instinctively take better care of ourselves, our communities, and our planet. Living seasonally, in sync with our natural circadian rhythm, can help us discover how good we can truly feel. This circular process of human nature is also critical to the health of our planet.
How Seasons Affect Us
Our hormones–the way our body self-regulates–is balanced by the natural circadian rhythms in nature whether it’s our resting cycles, our feeding cycles, or our physical and mental exertion cycles. We must yield to the seasonal cycles of our world.
There is a mountain of scientific evidence that indicates humans, plants, and animals are affected by seasons. And it’s not limited to Seasonal Affectedness Disorder. While we still don’t fully understand the complexity of this symbiosis, we are discovering benefits that indicate the changes in seasons have a necessary impact on our wellbeing and longevity.
A study published in 2015 in Nature Communications found that the activity of human genes changes with the seasons, along with people’s immunity. This is important when making sure your body can fight off dangerous pathogens during certain seasons. It’s not about overriding our bodies but rather yielding to the changes in nature.
“Seasonal fluctuations are important in animals,” Dr. Gilles Vandewalle, a neuroscientist at the University of Liege and the study’s lead author, told The Huffington Post. “Mood and immunity are well known to change with seasons in humans and there are indications that several brain aspects could also be seasonal.”
Dr. Vandewalle’s study found that the brain utilizes its resources differently to perform the same cognitive tasks depending on what season it is. Although people’s actual performance on the cognitive tasks did not change with the seasons, “The brain activity for the ongoing process varies.”
Their test scores did not change at different times of the year, but the neural cost of that performance did. In the summer, brain activity peaked on the attention tasks. During the winter, they used significantly less brain activity involved in attention. On the memory task, brain activity peaked in autumn and hit a low in the spring. Our educational institutions, government, and economic systems would function with more fluidity if we account for our human nature.
You may feel more energy in the summer. This isn’t just in your head – it’s biological. Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, a medical advisor for LoudCloudHealth points out, “The reason for this is the increased production of vitamin D3 in your body, which is actually produced by your body when it reacts with the ultraviolet rays of the sun.”
You don’t need to take supplements, you just need to spend more time outside in nature. Djordjevic mentions that the sunlight has to actually contact your skin directly to stimulate vitamin D production. “While driving all day in the sun might give you a tan, your body won’t produce vitamin D if the sun’s ultraviolet rays have to pass through [the] glass,” Djordjevic says.
It’s ok if vitamin D3 production drops during winter. It’s part of the natural circadian rhythm. What is not natural is spending the majority of our time inside and consuming foods that would only be available during certain seasons.
Modern agriculture and transportation systems have enabled us to eat tomatoes and avocados in the dead of winter and squash before the last spring frost. That is a far cry from eating with the seasons, as we have for hundreds of thousands of years.
Eating seasonal food that is grown naturally–not in hydroponic warehouses under electrical lighting, or halfway around the world–provides us with the right minerals and nutrients at the right time of the year.
How We Can Live in Sync with the Seasons
The world doesn’t need more information, we need to comprehend it. We have so much information available to us, but what we need is empathy. We will listen better if we are more connected to seasons and nature around us.
We can start by learning about the seasons. While some changes are more obvious (like weather), there are many important subtle differences related to each season, like changes in how we sleep. When we sleep better we improve our ability to recall what you read, heard, tasted, touched, or smelled. We start to feel alive again!
If we do this we can move forward as a collective towards a better world.
It’s important to experience the seasons, no matter how much or how little they change. Our resilience as a society will be dependent on our awareness of the natural world. The same as animals and plants do. For thousands of years, our diets changed organically. Our need for activity, sun exposure, intimacy, hormonal production, and rest are all part of the seasonal changes. It’s important to know that it’s okay to feel changes in your body throughout the year. It’s natural.
Our bodies produce more melatonin in the winter to have more efficient sleep because of the activity during summer months. During the summer and spring, hormones important to both men and women during childbirth are released. In the fall hormones are secreted to store more fat for winter as food becomes more scarce. Traveling the world affects those circadian rhythms, which is why jet lag causes fatigue. Our system has to adapt to a different natural environment.
The changes in humans are as dramatic as the changes in nature, we just aren’t paying attention to them like we used to. In every human culture throughout history, we have found ways to connect to the season as individuals and as a community.
If we listen to our bodies and observe nature, our circadian rhythms will balance our hormones according to our environment, and allow us to feel like a kid again.
Get away from tech, wake to the sun, and fall asleep to the stars. Eat with the seasons and grow your food. The closer you can be to nature the more connected you feel and the more meaningful your life will become.