7 Odd, Natural Ways to Boost Your Health

Person sitting in a grassy area next to a tree
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Call them antiquated. Call them crazy. But science is finding that many natural practices — things humans used to do but gradually gave up as modern technology and urban living took hold — are actually good for us. These practices take advantage of our evolutionary design and help our bodies work the way they’re supposed to. Sometimes you just can’t improve on Mother Nature.

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Eating dirt

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Most of us spend considerable time trying to eliminate dirt from our lives, but evidence suggests it might be time to rethink things. Dining on dirt and clay — geophagy — not only seems to soothe the stomach but may also eliminate bad bacteria, viruses, fungi and toxins from the gut. Animals as well as people in tribal and rural societies (particularly pregnant women and young children) have been doing it since the dawn of time. In fact, dirt eating is culturally sanctioned and even encouraged in many parts of the world.

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Forest bathing

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The Japanese term Shinrin-yoku may literally mean "forest bathing," but it doesn't involve soaking in a tub among the trees. Rather it refers to spending time in the woods for its therapeutic (or bathing) effect. Most of us have felt tension slip away in the midst of trees and nature’s beauty. But science now confirms its healing influence on the body. When you spend a few hours on a woodland hike or camping by a lake you breathe in phytoncides, active substances released by plants to protect them against insects and from rotting, which appear to lower blood pressure and stress and boost your immune system.

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Barefoot walking/running

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Marilyn Monroe once said, “Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.” That may be true in the modern world, but for most of history, humans did their conquering and everything else sans shoes. Which, according to some scientists, makes for healthier feet. In fact, more and more walkers and runners are kicking off their structured, cushioned athletic shoes and going barefoot to take better advantage of the foot’s natural physiology and put less stress on their lower extremities and the rest of their bodies.

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Moon gardening

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Good news for night owls with a green thumb. Planting a moon garden is good for your health and your soul. It’s already well known that daytime gardening lowers stress and increases well-being. So it only makes sense that planting night-blooming flowers and foliage can help extend nature’s curative powers around the clock. Plus, you get the added benefit of soaking up some moon rays (lunar therapy), which some health seekers believe is the key to beating everything from depression to cancer.

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Sea bathing

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The term “thalassotherapy” was coined in ancient Greece by Hippocrates, a firm believer in the health benefits of bathing and swimming in seawater. The idea continues today. In fact, research shows that taking a dip in warm ocean waters can boost your immune system, activate your body’s healing powers, improve circulation, hydrate dry skin and increase your sense of well being and relaxation. Time to catch a wave or two, perhaps, or indulge in some beach therapy.

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Standing at work

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It’s probably never crossed your mind, but that desk chair you park yourself in every day is a relatively recent invention — something pre-modern humans would probably find absurd. In fact, sitting too much at work or otherwise is now blamed for many current health maladies, including heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Enter the standing desk, which allows you to work on your feet. According to some experts, standing on the job not only counteracts couch-potato illnesses but also alleviates back injuries and pain to boot.

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Ice swimming

Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

Heat seekers and sun-worshipers may want to skip this one, but many people swear by the curative powers of diving into bone-chilling waters. In fact, ice-swimming advocates claim a brisk dip invigorates the immune system, wards off colds and flu, elevates your mood, improves circulation, and eliminates toxins from your body. Just be sure to get your doctor’s go-ahead before taking the plunge if you have a heart condition or other serious health problems.