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People need trees. Literally. While we have intuitively known for years that taking a nature walk is good for our bodies, minds and spirits, researchers are now discovering that the human-tree connection can be critical to our health.
Scientists in Japan have learned that individuals walking in woods experience more positive physiological benefits than subjects who walked in the city.
“Forest walkers showed lower concentrations of salivary cortisol, known as the stress hormone; lower blood pressure and heart rate; reduction of adrenaline and noradrenalin, also stress-related hormones; and an increase in immunity-boosting natural killer (NK) cell activity, and the numbers of NK cells and anti-cancer proteins known to combat cancer,” Maggie Spilner wrote in “Forest Bathing: The Healing Power of a Walk in the Woods.”
The Japanese researchers concluded that walking in dense woods at a leisurely pace at least once a month could even have the effect of helping prevent cancer generation and progression. Quig Li, Ph.D., a lead professor for several studies, believes that in the future persons diagnosed with high blood pressure or hypertension may be given prescriptions for “forest therapy.”
Currently Japan has more than 30 officially designated centers where patients engage in shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. They enjoy guided walks on woodland trails and receive free medical examinations under the trees. Doctor Li emphasizes that shinrin-yoku is regarded as preventive, rather than corrective, medicine.
A Canadian study released in February 2012 said, “Forests and green spaces have been linked to a significant decline in asthma, heart disease, diabetes, stress and certain childhood illnesses, as well as improved rehabilitation and faster hospital recovery rates,” according to “Trees Ontario, A Healthy Dose of Green: A Prescription For A Healthy Population.”
As increasing levels of stress, impaired mental health, chronic heart disease and obesity strain public health budgets, policy makers are looking more closely at prevention to curb costs. The relationship between human health and the natural environment, particularly forests, is gaining global attention.
Joanna Angle, a master tree farmer, previously directed the Olde English District Tourism Commission, and produced and hosted Palmetto Places for SCETV.