As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. ~John Muir
When I see the word waterfall, it evokes exquisite and peaceful yet powerful scenes of Nature. When I see an actual waterfall, I often catch myself holding my breath, as if the awesome, wild beauty I’m witnessing might disappear if I breathe too loudly. Do you have a similar response?
Through the years, I’ve visited a great many waterfalls, oftentimes reached by hiking trails. Niagara Falls, between New York and Canada, is probably the largest I’ve seen; I seemed to capture more spray than falls in every photo I took! Multnomah Falls in Oregon is one of the most striking, and the entire area around Portland is home to a host of waterfalls, large and small, lending itself to some amazing hikes. You may remember my photo of Hanging Lake in Colorado, a small green paradise a little over a mile up a canyon wall. Glacier National Park in Montana showcases some spectacular cascades. Yosemite National Park in California is known for its wealth of waterfall beauty. In the Navajo Nation of northern Arizona, you will find Grand Falls, often called chocolate falls due to its muddy water from the Colorado River. And in southern Utah, a sweet waterfall and shallow lake can be found at the end of a hiking trail in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
In past posts, I’ve shared the idea that time near a waterfall is good for the gut’s microbiome and has a positive effect on immune function. This post will give you more reasons to seek out waterfalls and bask in their glory. Studies dating back to 1892 show that the natural force of water molecules crashing can cause electrical charges to separate. As a result, some molecules gain an extra electron, and negative air ions, or NAIs, are formed, which studies show can be most valuable for health. This process is referred to as spray electrification, or simply, the waterfall effect.
According to an article published on the National Institute of Health site, the beneficial effect of NAIs include activation of natural killer cells and improved mental health, . . . which may reduce pain, including chronic pain. The article goes on to say that the changes made to the microbiome by NAIs (mentioned above) may also influence pain outcomes. If helping with pain were the only benefit they offered, I’d say that’s reason enough to visit these spectacles of Nature. But there’s more.
A PubMed article states that studies reveal NAIs significantly reduced resting heart rate. Further, it suggests that NAIs have a positive effect on the body’s circadian rhythms, which help regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Could time at a waterfall resolve insomnia?
For a Healthline article entitled The Effect of Negative Ions, various research studies from the past century were examined. Exposure to NAIs, the science shows, have resulted in reduced depression symptoms, improved cognitive performance, lessened stress, and increased fat metabolism. The article goes on to say that it is the natural form of NAIs, not the manmade ones, that provide benefits, as there are risks associated with using electric ionizers in your home or office.
You may have asked yourself, what about beaches and rapids and other waters that crash? Negative air ions can be found there as well, but at lower levels. This is due to the stronger force of gravity on waterfalls versus ocean waves or other crashing waters. But, hey, if you’re within 10 miles of the sea and over 100 miles away from the nearest waterfall, by all means, catch some NAIs at the beach!
Spending time near waterfalls not only puts us in a state of awe owing to their magnificent beauty, but also helps improve our health. Whether you’re seeking relief from pain, sleep disturbances, or stress, or looking to boost immune function and fat metabolism, the waterfall effect may be reason enough for you and your family to plan a relaxing, healing excursion to one of these natural beauties.
Cascades of Blessings,