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Six Scientifically Proven Ways a 30-Minute Walk In The Forest Will Improve Your Health

Six Scientifically Proven Ways a 30-Minute Walk In The Forest Will Improve Your Health

There is something inherently magical about a walk through the forest. Just imagine the trees towering around you, sunlight peeking through the tops, the texture, and crackle of the uneven ground beneath your feet. You can almost feel the magic now.

We all know that getting out into nature is good for the soul, but did you know that a walk in the forest can have a tangible and positive effect on your health?

The Secret the Japanese Have Known For Years

Nature-based therapy is nothing new, at least in the East. Developed by Japanese scientists in the 1980s, Shinrin-Yoku (literally translated as “forest-bathing”) is a critical part of the Japanese health and wellness system.

Take it from Dr. Won Sop Shin, Minister of the Korea Forest Service, who stated in October 2015 that, “A study showed that a 30-minute forest trek decreased negative feelings such as stress, depression, anger, fatigue, anxiety, and confusion, and improved cognitive skills.”

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So, take some time out of your usual routine and find some trees! If you’re still not convinced, here are six real health benefits a walk in the forest can have.

Reduces Cortisol Levels

Cortisol is our body’s stress hormone, designed to kick in when we need to fight or flight for our survival. High levels of this hormone can weaken our immune systems, change our metabolism, as well as make us feel tired, stressed, and weak. It is an important hormone to keep in balance. However, keeping that balance isn’t easy in our fast-paced, high-stress lives. That’s where a walk in the forest can help.

One study, conducted in two dozen forests across Japan with nearly 500 participants, concluded that a walk in the forest significantly decreased levels of cortisol. The hormone’s levels dropped nearly 16 percent more than when the same person walked in an urban environment. Additionally, the participants’ blood pressure showed improvement after spending just 15 minutes in the forest.

Lowers Blood Sugar

Studies have shown that forest therapy effectively decreases blood-glucose levels in diabetic patients. In a 1998 study, patients were given blood-glucose tests before walking in the forest, and were tested afterward to measure any changes. The forest environment itself can cause “changes in hormonal secretion and autonomic nervous functions” that can help lower blood sugars, as well as the added physical exercise from walking. However, it is the combination of walking in the forest where patients saw the most improvement.

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Improves Concentration and Brain Function

Forest walking is a natural mood enhancer, but it can also help our brains function better and can even improve concentration. A research team from Chiba University collected data from two large groups of adults: 500 who took part in forest therapy, and 500 who didn’t. In a study published in 2013, researchers confirmed that “spending time within a forest can reduce psychological stress, depressive symptoms, and hostility, while at the same time improving sleep and increasing both vigor and a feeling of liveliness.”

Improves Mood

We’ve always known that fresh air, exercise, and getting out in nature can improve our mood, but there is real evidence that forest walking can actually decrease clinical depression, and help patients with alcoholism.

Dr. Shin says, “Forests can improve psychological stability in patients with depression and alcoholism. Scores on the Beck Depression Inventory decreased among patients with depression and scores on a self-esteem measure increased among individuals with alcohol use disorder, after participating in a forest healing program.”

Fights Off Allergy Symptoms

Tom Ogren, author of The Allergy Fighting Garden, says most allergy sufferers don’t have to worry too much when they are truly in nature. He says, “In nature, things are much more in balance, certainly the trees and shrubs are in a gender balance, and there is usually around one female tree for every male tree in the wild. This horticultural balance keeps the air cleaner, is better for everyone, especially anyone with allergies or asthma.”

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For those with allergies, a walk in the forest can actually boost your own immunity and improve your allergic reactions as you get more exposure to nature. Dr. Shin says, “Patients with pediatric asthma or atopic dermatitis obtained relief from their symptoms after undergoing a forest healing program.”

If you’re looking for respite from allergies, stop leafing through pages of air purifier reviews, and just get outside!

Helps Your Body Fight Cancer Cells

Just the scent of trees can assist your body in fighting cancer cells, according to a 2009 study.

One of the biggest benefits of forest-bathing comes from a compound called phytoncide, which is derived from trees and plants and is breathed in by humans during forest therapy. It is this phytoncide exposure that helps our bodies, explains Dr. Shin, by increasing our levels of a particular brand of disease-fighting white blood cells. “The forest environment can boost the immune system by increasing the number of natural killer cells, which may facilitate recovery from cancer. Actually, the forest healing program was found to facilitate the recovery of breast cancer patients.”

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Conclusion

Our bodies were meant to live in nature, and it is nature itself that is our healer.

Step away from the screen and make it a date: you and the forest.

Your mind, body, and soul will thank you for it.

Featured photo credit: Dustin Scarpitti via magdeleine.co

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Last Updated on February 25, 2020

Face Adversity with a Smile

Face Adversity with a Smile

I told my friend Graham that I often cycle the two miles from my house to the town centre but unfortunately there is a big hill on the route. He replied, ‘You mean fortunately.’ He explained that I should be glad of the extra exercise that the hill provided.

My attitude to the hill has now changed. I used to grumble as I approached it but now I tell myself the following. This hill will exercise my heart and lungs. It will help me to lose weight and get fit. It will mean that I live longer. This hill is my friend. Finally as I wend my way up the incline I console myself with the thought of all those silly people who pay money to go to a gym and sit on stationery exercise bicycles when I can get the same value for free. I have a smug smile of satisfaction as I reach the top of the hill.

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Problems are there to be faced and overcome. We cannot achieve anything with an easy life. Helen Keller was the first deaf and blind person to gain a University degree. Her activism and writing proved inspirational. She wrote, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

One of the main determinants of success in life is our attitude towards adversity. From time to time we all face hardships, problems, accidents, afflictions and difficulties. Some are of our making but many confront us through no fault of our own. Whilst we cannot choose the adversity we can choose our attitude towards it.

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Douglas Bader was 21 when in 1931 he had both legs amputated following a flying accident. He was determined to fly again and went on to become one of the leading flying aces in the Battle of Britain with 22 aerial victories over the Germans. He was an inspiration to others during the war. He said, “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.”

How can you change your attitude towards the adversity that you face? Try these steps:

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  1. Confront the problem. Do not avoid it.
  2. Deliberately take a positive attitude and write down some benefits or advantages of the situation.
  3. Visualise how you will feel when you overcome this obstacle.
  4. Develop an action plan for how to tackle it.
  5. Smile and get cracking.

The biographies of great people are littered with examples of how they took these kinds of steps to overcome the difficulties they faced. The common thread is that they did not become defeatist or depressed. They chose their attitude. They opted to be positive. They took on the challenge. They won.

Featured photo credit: Jamie Brown via unsplash.com

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