Did you know that taking a walk in a forest is good for us health wise?
Let us take a break from the rush of our daily lives and enjoy the beauty and peace of being in a natural setting. Research is showing that visiting a forest has real, quantifiable health benefits; both mental and physical. Even 10 minutes around trees or in green spaces may improve health. Think of it as a prescription with no side effects and that’s also free!
These are some of the health benefits from a walk in a green space:
- Boosts the immune system
Research is casting light on how spending time outdoors and in forests makes us healthier by boosting our immunity. While we breathe in the fresh air, we breathe in phytoncides; airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When we breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called Natural Killer cells or NK. These cells kill tumor and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study, increased NK activity from a 3-day, 2-night forest bathing trip lasted for more than 30 days.
Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.
- Lowers blood pressure/reduces stress/improve moods
Spending time around and looking at trees reduces stress and because stress inhibits the immune system, the lack of stress lowers blood pressure and improves mood. Numerous studies show that both exercising in forests and simply sitting looking at trees reduce blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Looking at pictures of trees has a similar, but less dramatic, effect. Studies examining the same activities in urban, unplanted areas showed no reduction of stress-related effects. Using the Profile of Mood States test, researchers found that forest bathing trips significantly decreased the scores for anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and fatigue.
- Increases ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
Spending time in nature helps you focus. Our lives are busier than ever with jobs, school, and family life. Trying to focus on many activities or even a single thing for long periods of time can mentally drain us, a phenomenon called Directed Attention Fatigue. Spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, birds and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, allowing us to focus better and renew our ability to be patient.
In children, attention fatigue causes an inability to pay attention and control impulses. The part of the brain affected by attention fatigue (right prefrontal cortex) is also involved in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Studies show that children who spend time in natural outdoor environments have a reduction in attention fatigue and children diagnosed with ADHD show a reduction in related symptoms. Researchers are investigating the use of natural outdoor environments to supplement current approaches to managing ADHD. Such an approach has the advantages of being widely accessible, inexpensive and free of side effects.
- Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness
Patients recover from surgery faster and better when they have a “green” view. Hospital patients may be stressed from a variety of factors, including pain, fear, and disruption of normal routine. Research found that patients with “green” views had shorter post-operative stays, took fewer painkillers, and had slightly fewer post-surgical complications compared to those who had no view or a view of a cement wall.
- Increases energy levels
Forest walks allow the body to rejuvenate itself as the anti-stress hormones are produced. Taking deep breaths in the forest revitalizes the body allowing it to feel more energetic and free from stress. Nature increases vigor in individuals and groups and fights fatigue allowing one to feel refreshed. The forest triggers the production of the hormones dopamine and cortisol which have a calming effect on the body and mind.
- Improves sleep.
Research has shown that forest walking has helped individuals to improve their quality of sleep. The forest bathing trip significantly increased the duration of their sleep regardless of the physical activities. The environment in the forest relaxes the body and the mind, providing it with a peaceful experience which allows one to get better sleep at night.
During this Covid19 pandemic with most people are working from home, from Monday to Friday, during weekends you can take advantage of taking a walk in a forest since it will be a plus for your health benefits.
Enjoy your visit to the forest.
By Ben Ouko
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