It’s that time of year when we are looking to get out and about. The kids are off school, the UK weather is actually being kind to us(!) and it seems almost criminal to be indoors during weather like this.
Aside from the hassle of actually getting everybody out the door, I think most of us would agree that being out in nature makes us feel good. The kids have renewed energy when they are outside; adults seem better able to “switch off” and relax. If you live or work in the city, then escaping to somewhere green really enhances your feeling of “getting away from it all”, alongside which it FEELS good to be out in the countryside, away from exhaust fumes and noise, surrounded instead by the scents & sounds of nature…
Is this ‘feel good factor’ just a myth, or is there more to it…?
A FABULOUS EXCUSE
I am here to give you a fabulous excuse to book a weekend away in a beautiful corner of countryside, in the true knowledge that this is PROVEN to be good for your wellbeing – both physical and mental. Indeed the Japanese spent $4million researching the benefits of so called ‘Forest Bathing’, concluding that this is
“scientifically proven to improve your health”
Forest Bathing essentially just means being in the presence of trees. The whole point of the experience is NOT to achieve something, but simply to “be”. You might sit, you might stroll, you might read a book, but most importantly you will RELAX in the presence of trees. We seem to instinctively sense that this is a pleasant and soothing thing to do, but we need to examine the research to understand the actual health benefits. Simply “being” in a forest environment has been shown to result in:
- lower concentrations of cortisol [the stress hormone]
- lower pulse rate
- lower blood pressure
- lower sympathetic nerve activity
- higher parasympathetic nerve activity
The first three are fairly self explanatory, but what about the nerve activity? Our SYMPATHETIC nerve system is what controls our ‘fight or flight’ response (our body’s ‘self-help’ reaction to – for example – being chased by a wild animal), so if being amongst trees reduces activity in this system this surely means we will be less ‘wired’. Meanwhile our PARASYMPATHETIC system does the opposite job, supporting our ‘rest and digest’ system and aiding our relaxation response…another plus for sitting amongst the foliage!
WHY AND HOW DOES THIS WORK?
The crux of it all comes down to one of my favourite #stressmanagement topics: essential oils. Particular essential oils called #phytoncides are found in wood and plants (and in some fruit and vegetables). Trees emit these oils to protect themselves from germs and insects. What is of especial interest to us is that the phytoncides affect the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells. These are cells which
“provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and respond to tumor formation, and are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention”
And so whilst ‘bathing’ in a forest, we are in fact drinking in a fabulous immunity support “pill” via essential oils…and not a jot of medication in sight!
It is surely true to say that the overall calming effect of the forest environment must also be a contributory factor. When we immerse ourselves in green surroundings, with the soothing sounds of streams and babbling brooks, and the chatter of birds and wildlife each one of these plays a part in relaxing us. There are in fact so many elements that go to make up the therapeutic profile of the natural landscapes, helping us to ‘switch off’, ‘calm down’ and simply ‘reboot’, but if we are looking for scientific proof then it is the phytoncides and their affect on human health which is the major player.
LITTLE & OFTEN
Encouragingly, all the evidence suggests that we don’t actually need to spend a LOT of time in nature to reap the benefits. It is more important to aim for regular contact, so “little & often” is a good one to aim for – and if we’re honest it’s also probably more realistic for many of us within our weekly schedules. If you live or work in urban areas, then try to get to the park during your lunch hour, or take a family picnic in the park on a summer’s evening, remembering that even just a little pocket of time amongst the greenery can be positive. You can still aim to venture a little further afield at the weekends, and ‘up’ the effects that much more…
So, if forest bathing is so simple to achieve, lovely to experience and 100% free, then what’s stopping you? Whether it’s a quick trip to somewhere local or a ‘note to self’ to plan that weekend away, you can now genuinely convince yourself that you owe it to YOU – and to your family – to “get away from it all” and experience the many proven therapeutic benefits of being AT ONE WITH NATURE.