Natural healing, natural wellness

Let’s Go Forest Bathing

I’ve always been a nature gal. Childhood days were spent playing in the garden, climbing trees or combing the beach, picking seashells. When I grew up and bought my first home, it had a little garden with a very productive fruit tree. All kinds of birds and butterflies would come to visit. I loved my garden, and spent hours there. I live in an apartment now, with sweeping views of the river and forest. Cool, fresh breezes always blow, and I enjoy taking walks by the river and nearby fields.

Recently, in a series of studies, scientists found that when people leave their concrete surroundings to spend a few hours in a more natural environment – forests, parks and places with plenty of trees – they experience increased immune system function.

Several factors play a part. One is stress reduction. The other appears to be airborne chemicals called phytoncides which plants emit to protect themselves against rotting and insects. A study found an increase in white blood cells, which lasted a week, in women exposed to phytoncides in forest air. A 2007 study showed that men who took two-hour walks in a forest over two days had a 50% spike in levels of white blood cells.

A study published in January this year included data on 280 healthy people in Japan. On one day, some people walked through the city for a few hours while another group of people walked through the forest. On the second day, they traded places. Scientists found that being among plants produced “lower concentration of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure”.

Various studies have shown that visiting parks and forests seem to raise levels of white blood cells, which help to fight infection. Interestingly, in Japan which has one of the world’s highest life expectancy, its people enjoy visiting nature parks for its therapeutic effects. This practice is called “Shinrin-yoku”, which means forest bathing.

Think about it, people who live in rural areas and walk everywhere are known to have lower incidences of diseases like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Ultimately, the best way to stay healthy and well is to have a strong immune system which functions properly. Medicine can only do so much. Time for me to go forest bathing.

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