“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” John Muir, Father of the National Parks.
Trinidad & Tobago has a significant incidence and prevalence of chronic disease, mental disease and sleeping disorders which all translate into a reduced domestic product and significant healthcare cost because of the morbidity and mortality of these conditions. While the main focus is on pharmacological treatment, we may be missing the boat by not appreciating the link between our health and determinants of it, such as; nature, cultural heritage and history.
Jalaludin Khan, director of ‘In Diversity Group’ (a popular wellness advocacy group) has recognized this. His group organizes tours based on this health rejuvenating experience. He states that we in T&T, and by extension the wider Caribbean, have the richest diversity of nature, culture and heritage. To experience this and to yield the benefits for holistic wellness, one can be in this diversity while engaging in walks, hikes, drives, boating or bating experiences.
Such experiences have been shown by research to improve one’s overall health. The benefits are multidimensional, as it tackles health issues form a physical, social, mental and spiritual perspective:
It lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Brisk hiking can help burn as much as 500 calories per hour.
The body’s conditioning for physical activity is improved thus yielding further health benefits through exercise.
Social: It allows for socialization and companionship.
It improves mood and decreases anxiety as it releases endorphins that makes us feel good about ourselves.
It restores our circadian rhythms or internal natural clocks and helps us go back to our natural sleeping pattern
Spending time outdoors increases attention span and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 30%
Spiritual: This is best explained by the en vogue Japanese concept of “Shinrin-yoku” which focuses on the perspective of simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.
Such health benefits have been recognized by the United Nations Labor Organization, as it has included such productive health rejuvenating activities as a universal labor right. This right specifically focuses on the need for rest, relaxation through vacation from work that improves health which would result in a more productive employee.
The In Diversity Group has for a long time now been engaging in activities that incorporate these aspects of the Caribbean’s nature, cultural heritage and history. There are a multitude of nature hiking trails on the Northern Peninsula such as the Covigne river trail through the gorge, Edith falls, Bamboo Cathedral trail to the satellite station, Macqueripe beach and Down the Island boating experiences. The capital of Port-Of-Spain offers tours through the Botanical Gardens, the Queen’s Park Savannah and a look at historical buildings. Central Trinidad offers many natural, cultural and spiritual opportunities with the Caroni Bird Century, the Indian Cultural Museum and the Temple in the Sea in Waterloo. San Fernando and environs offer a rich cultural, historical and cuisine perspective within the town itself, southern towns and villages in its vicinity and a Caribbean gastronomy experience based in the culinary arts of the descendants of the Indian indentured laborers. Tours based on T&T’s rich festivals can also be had e.g. the National Council of Indian Culture’s Divali Nagar, Ram Lila, traditional Carnival and Chinese Double 10 and Dragon festivals. Geological experiences like mud volcanoes, pitch lake, salt ponds and other natural geological formations unique to T&T are indeed amazing experiences. Night walks that focus on star watch parties, turtle watching and astronomical events are certainly an experience to be had. Spiritual tours that focus on music, yoga and natural herbs are quite a unique experience. We must not forget our sister isle Tobago whose landscape epitomizes a tropical Caribbean experience with sites like; Store Bay, Pigeon Point, Argyle falls, Little Tobago and the many tropical reefs. Even visiting our regional Caribbean islands offers a ten-fold experience.
Regarding health, there is even a bigger picture in all of this. As Trinbagonians and Caribbean people, such experiences of nature like beaches, waterfalls, bird watching and wildlife tours, geographical experiences that appreciate our unique landscape, heritage and historical experiences regarding our festivals, cultural activities and buildings, do more than increase physical activity and relaxation. They inculcate an empowerment in our sense of identity and gives us a feeling of inclusion under the banner of Trinbagonian. This is an essential social determinant of health called Social Inclusion and belonging. It goes a far way in improving health and well-being.
Now that we are in Stage 4 of rolling back of lockdown due to Covid-19 and many have ventured out, let’s be productive in availing ourselves of such wondrous experiences only T&T and the Caribbean can offer that yields countless benefits to health. Good footwear, convenient clothing, a comfortable backpack and you’re pretty much ready to go on a path to seeking good health. Look out for such health initiatives coming so on the Facebook page Dr. Visham Bhimull Primary Care Physician.
Dr. Visham Bhimull
Primary Care Physician
Diploma in Family Medicine (UWI)