2/03/2011

Walking In The Big Trees Has Health Benefits

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."- John Muir

I always felt that spending time in the forest had health benefits beyond the immediate exercise. Now, repeated studies support what many have felt for a long time - a walk in the forest is a very good thing for physical, mental, and spiritual health.

In Japan people visit nature parks and spend time among the trees practicing ‘Shinrinyoku’, or forest bathing. Doctors prescribe time in the forest for the health benefits of nature. Research has shown that this contact reduces stress levels, and strengthens the part of the immune system that fights cancer.

The Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, established in 2007, conducts studies to test the beneficial effects of nature, forests in particular. One study lead to the recommendation that repeated forest bathing may help decrease the risk of stress-related illness.

Not only that, but the unique forest smell has beneficial effects as well. Another study of forest bathing attributed increased immune activity partly to breathing in air containing phytoncide (wood essential oils) like α-pinene and limonene. These oils are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds emitted from trees to protect them from rotting and insects.

Two of Vancouver Island's native trees, the Western red-cedar and Douglas-fir, are rich in essential oils. The wood of these trees has long been known for being rot resistant, but now it looks like sniffing them can help us boost our immune system and resist some cancers. The researchers found that the elevated immune response was evident for many days after being in the forest.
VIBT heartily recommends a forest bath today. Forests as small as 1 acre have been shown to be large enough to produce benefits. Not yet studied, but more than likely beneficial as well, are walks in parks with a good density of trees.

Have fun wherever you immerse yourself in nature, and rest assured that you are benefiting from bathing in everything the forest freely offers.

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