WHY YOU'LL ALWAYS FEEL BETTER AT THE LAKE
Many know the feeling of leaving the hot, dry air of the city on a sizzling summer day, heading for a weekend of sun and fun at the lake. The sense of well-being that accompanies one on the way is largely due to getting away from the daily pressures for a few days, yes, but there is also an invisible atmospheric phenomenon around bodies of water and country air that has a profound effect on how we feel.
The timeless beauty of Alberta's Rocky Mountains draws people from around the world, and 'mountain air' is a phrase well understood by anyone who has experienced it; an almost indescribable quality that makes it nearly impossible not to take a deep breath. Again, the majestic, serene surroundings play a huge part in feelings of contentment and relaxation, yet the same imperceptible chemistry of "molecular magic" that makes people feel good aorund lake air is in mountain air too. The mighty molecule with the power, in high enough concentrations, to alter human physiology and produce euphoric-type energy boils down to the simple negative ion.
When Negative is Positive
Lest anyone slept through chemistry class, an ion is any atom or molecule that has gained or lost an electron (a charged unit of energy). The individual gases that form air are ionized into positive ions and negative ions. Nature creates ions wherever energy is imparted into the air, such as friction due to air movement, the breaking of water droplets (waterfalls, surf, rain), sunlight, lightning and the natural radioactivity of rocks. Ions, therefore, are floating in the air around us all the time, only changes in their concentrations or in the ratio of positive to negatively charged molecules can have an extraordinary effect on plants and animals. Though we normally associate the word 'positive' with good, and 'negative' with bad, in the case of ions, it is the opposite. Sometimes referred to as air vitamins, negative ions enter the bloodstream and, in a complex dynamic, bring about hormonal and biochemical reactions in brain and body. In short, the more negative ions one is exposed to, the more energetic, replenished and uplifted one will feel.
To stand near a waterfall or walk along the beach is to bathe oneself in negative ions, hence the feelings of well-being associated with these activities. Science has shown the heaviest concentrations of negative ions to be where there is moving water, such as lakes, oceans, or streams, and in higher elevations like foothills and mountain regions. Pine forests and caves are dense with negative ions. According to Team Alberta (www.teamalberta.net), the effects of ions per cubic centimeter are as follows:
0 - 100: Dead, oppressive air, difficulty concentrating, germs flourish.
500 - 1000: Normal indoor air where pollution is low and windows open.
1000 - 5000: Fresh country air, the minimum level a person should work, sleep and live in.
5000+: Mountain air, exceptionally fresh, clean, invigorating.
50,000+: Pure air, stimulating and relaxing at the same time, germs cannot live in this air.
Accordingly, the same study cites ion concentrations per cubic centimeter in particular places such as:
• Smoky indoor air: 0 - 100
• Hermetically sealed, steel-structure, office buildings with central heating/air conditioning: 0 - 250
• Urban air in average industrial city: 250 - 750
• Country air: 1000 - 2000
• Mountain air: 1000 - 5000
• Inside caves: 5000 - 20,000
• Moving water: 25,000 - 100,000.
The impulse to inhale deeply in these environments has much to do with the body's unconscious affinity for negative ions and their healing, calming effect. Enhancing the immune system, increasing oxygen delivery to the brain and relief from allergy and asthma symptoms are just a few of the growing list of health benefits that negative ion studies are finding.
Positively Ill Winds
For much of the environment, nature's design is in place with a healthy balance between positive and negative ions. Yet, just as there are certain places and conditions where the wonderfully fortifying negative ions dominates, so too, are there particular circumstances and locations where the positive ion far outnumber the negatives, bringing on a host of undesirable effects. For example, before a storm the positive ion concentration outnumbers the negative by a ratio of up to 33 to 1, hence the arthritic aches, anxiety and other physical discomforts many people complain of prior to a rainstorm. Breathing in air laden with positive ions can cause headaches, lethargy, aggression and a wide range of other maladies. In general, positive ions trigger the release of certain chemicals in the body that can create physical problems and behavioral changes. Positive ions measure significantly higher in the atmosphere around the full moon, a time when crime, suicide and aggression rates rise.
The legendary "ill winds" of the world have long been known to blow in a sense of malaise or exhaustion, aches, pains and depression and a long list of other discomforts. In Switzerland, the dry wind that blows across the Alps is called the "Foehn", in the Middle East it is the "Sharav", and in Canada, we call them Chinook winds. Loaded with positive ions, these winds are known worldwide for their negative effects on a population. Some Middle Eastern courts even recognize the Sharav winds as a mitigating circumstance if blowing when certain crimes occur, and in parts of Italy and Switzerland, judges are known to be more lenient if an ailing wind was blowing at the time a crime was committed.
Nature strives for balance in all things, but many of our technological advancements and urbanization has tipped the balance in favor of higher positive ion concentrations. Industrial fumes, concrete, steel, vehicle exhaust, synthetic materials and the metal around air conditioning ducts, all absorb negative ion charges. The minimum count of negative ions for proper human functioning is about 1000 per cubic centimeter. In a city, the negative ion count can be as low as 100 or less, with positive ion counts right off the chart, compared to a beach of lapping waves, where ion counts often measure 2000 negative to 1000 positive.
The natural attraction that humans feel toward nature's best, like beaches, waterfalls and lush green forests, is not only a desire to surround ourselves with the peace and beauty of these places, but an innate wisdom that leads us to seek out that which is best for us.
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