International Day of Forests – March 21st

In recognition of the upcoming International Day of Forests, I decided to take a walk through a local forest near my home. If you’re lucky enough to live near a forested area I encourage you to do the same on or around March 21.

Simply put, having and preserving our forests is in our best interest. Yes, everyone knows about how plants take in carbon and release oxygen, but there’s a whole host of other benefits forests have for us. Besides, they’re just pleasing to be in.

So pleasing in fact, that forests may actually be good for your health. In recent studies by Hiroko Ochiai (2015), it was found that “Forest Therapy” can help you lower your physical indicators of stress and increase your mood and positive feelings.

Forest Therapy, also known as Forest Bathing or Shinrin-yoku, is a Japanese concept which describes the act of “taking in the atmosphere of a forest”. This is an increasingly common method of relaxation with proven clinical benefits. It involves walking around and spending time in a forested or natural environment. In these particular studies, subjects were instructed to simply walk around or lay down on blankets for a little under five hours while in a Japanese forest. That’s about the length of a good picnic.

Before and after the experience physical attributes were recorded, like blood pressure and cortisol levels (the stress hormone). Psychological attributes like mood state were also noted. Statistically, it was found that Forest Therapy significantly lowered blood pressure, cortisol, and urinary adrenaline. Mood indicators for tension, anxiety, confusion, and anxiety also significantly lowered and patients reported feeling more relaxed and at ease.

What this means is that for people with high blood pressure and the related issues, a little time spent in the forest may potentially help you from progressing to a chronic hypertensive state. No drugs. No side effects. No weird diets… Plus, it’s free!

I suppose it’s important to mention that in these studies, participants couldn’t use the evil three: cell, cigarettes, and alcohol. Would simply putting these things down anyway have had the same effect on these urbanites? Maybe. Is more study required? Definitely.

Could wide scale adoption of Shinrin-yoku lower direct and indirect medical costs of a society and improve quality of life? Could it lead to a greater valuation of forested spaces and therefore more protection and growth? Well, more research is needed but I’m hopeful. Ideally, healthcare professionals and individuals will see Forest Therapy as another effective tool in their toolbox for ensuring their health and well being, in addition to conventional practices.

So why not make your way down to a local wood on March 21st. Turn off your cell phones, put down the beer and cigarettes, and take a nice long walk. Maybe bring a blanket? You’ll be better off for it and your heart will thank you.

References:

Ochiai, H., Ikei, H., Song, C., Kobayashi, M., Takamatsu, A., Miura, T., Kagawa, T., Li, Q., Kumeda, S., Imai, M., Miyazaki, Y. Physiological and psychological effects of forest therapy on middle-aged males with high-normal blood pressure. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2015, 12, 2532-2542.

Ochiai, H., Ikei, H., Song, C., Kobayashi, M., Miura, T., Kagawa, T., Li, Q., Kumeda, S., Imai, M., Miyazaki, Y. Physiological and psychological effects of a forest therapy program on middle-aged females. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2015, 12, 15222-15232.

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