Waterfalls…noisily rushing over a precipice of land, crashing to the surface below, the air cooler where the water mists, an ancestral memory. Besides their captivating appearance in nature, waterfalls have been shown to improve mental and physical well being in people.
One of the psychological effects we’re most aware of when we’re by the sea, lakes or waterfalls is a feeling of awe. There’s something about the beautiful vastness of a natural scene that has a profound impact on the way we feel. Science has found that such feelings can lead to prosocial behavior like altruism, loving kindness and magnanimity.
Waterfalls are a natural source of wonder and entertainment.We hike to see them, stand beneath their plunge, swim in their pools and gasp in admiration. They are a destination that we seek for a variety of reasons. For reasons we can’t always explain, we feel better when being near waterfalls.
So many drops, so many atoms, so many ions. The area around waterfalls is known to have a high volume of negative ions in the air. It is known as the Lenard Effect.
Atoms are made of electrons and protons. An unequal number of protons to electrons, you have an ion. When the ion loses at least one electron, it is positively charged and called a cation (+) and when an ion has extra electrons, it is negatively charged and called an anion (-).
The standard pH level of the human body is 7.4 which is slightly alkaline – but this balance is destroyed when too many positive ions enter your body because they cause oxidation. When too many positive ions accumulate in the body they increase the active oxygen. Activated oxygen is believed to be a cause of cancer and other serious sickness.
Positive ions are found in profusion in polluted air. They proliferate in closed buildings and sealed environments. Electric devices that produce electromagnetic fields, including computer screens, television sets and fluorescent lighting produce positive ions. Synthetic materials like plastics and manmade fibers , like nylon carry their own positive charge.
How does being near a waterfall improve the well being in people? The answer is the number of negative ions in the air. Negative ions are absorbed through the skin or while breathing. Once negative ions reach the bloodstream they are said to increase our bodies production of serotonin, which is the chemical responsible for relieving stress and depression and boosting our energy and happiness.
Waterfalls provide soothing sights and sounds that help you relax and destress. They also lower your blood pressure, improving your health. Simply watching a watercourse is a psychological aid in lowering stress levels and is found to be similar to hypnosis techniques.
The mist cleanses and deposits natural minerals in the air which means cleaner, healthier air to breath.
The sound of water is soothing to us. It’s why many sleep aid devices feature a setting that sounds like falling water. Scientific studies show that the sound of running water initiates a flood of oxygen to the brain and diminishes depression, helps to increase mental clarity, gives greater emotional stability and promotes our overall well being. Water sounds have long been used in meditation. In listening to these sounds we learn to be present in the moment and directly experience things instead of lost in rumination. Science suggests that the sound of running water can affect the rhythm of neuronal “waves” in our brains, encouraging a more peaceful pace of thought.
Waterfalls form when there is a watercourse traversing over different layers of rock. Water is a powerful erosive agent, and different types of rock erode at different rates. When a river or stream flowing over hard rock (like granite) where erosion is slow and also flows over soft rock (like shale) where erosion is more rapid, over time the soft rock is cut into by the water, ultimately making the watercourse steeper beyond the hard rock layer. This steepening effect also accelerates erosion as the influence of gravity on the water increases the water’s speed. Eventually, the watercourse steepens until it’s nearly vertical or completely vertical. This geologic stage is the waterfall we travel to see.
While erosion is the primary process that creates waterfalls, geologists note that other cataclysmic events (such as earthquakes, landslides, glaciers and volcanoes) may also create waterfalls.
On my spring expedition earlier this year I made a special excursion to visit my Aunt Norma in the mountains of western North Carolina. My two cousins, Paula and Tammy graciously took me sightseeing up steep mountain roads to visit the waterfalls seen in this article. It made me happy.
Macon County, North Carolina is in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachians are 300 – 500 million years old, the oldest mountains on Earth. Waterfalls are common in the Appalachian system. In the north, waterfalls are mostly the result of glacial activity during the last ice age. In the southern Appalachians waterfalls are generally formed by the action of water on alternating layers of soft and hard rock.
Next time you are hiking to or visiting a waterfall why not plan on spending a little extra time for your health? It’s an opportunity to meditate on the soothing sights and sounds and absorb more of the negative ions flowing around you. Let Mother Nature help with your well being.
To your health, Dohn