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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 August 13, 2020

12 Benefits of Meditation That Improve Your Body And Mind

12 Benefits of Meditation That Improve Your Body And Mind

As a mediation teacher, I am constantly confronted with these two questions regarding the benefits of meditation:

1. Why can’t I enjoy the benefits of meditation continuously?

I ask back: Is it maybe because you see mediation as a technique, performance, or some exclusive activity? The answer is: yes!

Or, because your mind is constantly evolving on the past negative attachments and traditional habits? After careful thinking they answer: yes, probably!

Although meditation is very simple and challenging at the same time, in the above mentioned case, it’s not easy to benefit from meditation, especially when approached with the idea that it has to be learned, studied, or applied. Meditation is to be seen as a natural, mental cleansing process that happens on a basis of awareness on a moment-to-moment experience. When that takes place, the benefits of meditation are continuous.

2. What is the purpose of meditation?

The purpose of meditation is to accomplish a level of consciousness for mastering the mind and uniting with the finest, deepest, and subtlest part of yourself as a being.

It is a conscious process of observation of the mind—helping the meditator to understand the structure of its mind and the quality of its content. During this process, countless benefits of a physical, mental, and spiritual/philosophical nature arise for the meditator.

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Meditation as a Fixer and Benefactor

In this article we’ll have a look at the primary and the ultimate benefits of mediation, which improve your body and mind at the same time. For the sake of clarity, readability, and tangible experience, I have separated the benefits into three groups.

You can change just about anything you don’t like about yourself (psychologically, as well as physically) through meditation. However, this is only possible with a specific approach, when your brain allows the benefits of meditation to do their work.

This means not to interrupt the benefit with other thoughts, but to let their effect implement itself in your body and mind. This approach is crucial.

The following exercises will make you feel the benefits of meditation instantly, but the continuity of the benefits of meditation on your body and mind depend on the discipline of your brain, how you manage external stimuli and your thoughts.

Less Physical, More Psychological

Even though the practice of meditation is more psychological and less physical, the first benefit we’re going to experience is both physical as well as mental.

This benefit happens literally immediately, right at the moment of meditation. It is the essence of mediation basically.

The First Benefit of Meditation

The first benefit of meditation is twofold:

  1. Improving inward attention (sharpening the mind)
  2. Relaxation of the body

Let’s do it right now. This benefit consists of only one step, and it is very simple to perform. It goes like this:

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Sit still and pay attention to your exhalation.

That’s it! Technically, the whole journey into the world of mediation begins here and nowhere else. And right here, you benefit from this step in the following way:

When you pay attention to the flow of your exhalation (gentle, deep, effortless exhalation), your body begins with the process of relaxation instantly (your heart rate slows down, your nervous system calms, and tension in your muscles is relieved).

When the nervous system calms, your mind calms down, and, more specifically, less thoughts are produced by your mind. How, exactly? By applying one of the most valuable mental skills—attention—the mind follows the breathing and has no space and time to generate any other thoughts. Only when the attention goes off the breath, other thoughts are constructed, and the mind is accelerating with thought production again.

Keeping the First Benefit Effective and Ongoing

Here you apply the approach of not letting the relaxation and attention process get interrupted; rather let the effects of these benefits implant in your body and mind as deeply as possible.

This is to say, the instant relaxation and inward attention happen at the same time when you follow the flow of your breath. Repeating this process—creating a constant rhythm out of the breathing and the attention—you create a process of meditation.

Keep your attention on the flow of your breath and see how the calmness of body and mind begin to rule your present moment. The longer you stay connected to your breathing, the stronger you’ll feel the benefit. Start with 3-5 minutes at a time without doing anything else, and increase to 10-20 minutes and onwards.

Can you think of a better, simpler and quicker exercise that can relax the body and improve attention in this way, at this speed?

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This benefit takes you to the second one.

The Second Benefit of Meditation

While still working with the first benefit of mediation, you slowly start to see the second benefit of mediation, which is fourfold. I call it the major value of mediation:

  1. Energy (physical and mental strength)
  2. Observance
  3. Peacefulness (stillness, and space of mind for deeper observation)
  4. Patience

Peacefulness is the source of a blissful life. The energy is the fuel to express that blissfulness. Whatever we want to accomplish in life we need: 1) Physical and mental strength, 2) Observance of that energy, 3) Peacefulness—the calmness and stillness that creates space for freedom of being and creative thinking, and 4) Patience for the process of accomplishment.

You can only get creative in thinking and boosted with physical and mental energy when you get in touch with the deepest levels of yourself—when you harmonize your mental and physiological activities. How do you do that? Let’s try it right now:

This step involves the observation of the two separate movements of your breath. After paying attention on your exhalation, you have prepared your body and mind to really see and feel what true peacefulness and true energy means.

1. Energy

Keep your attention on your inhalation (inhaling gently, deeply and lightly) and feel the new energy (new oxygen) flowing in your body. The inhalation is the symbol for aliveness and vitality. It is the the primary act that connects the baby’s body with the outside world after coming out of the womb[1]. Each inhalation is a new opportunity for your body to revive, regenerate, and renew itself.

2. Observance

The observance comes during the process of meditation, enabling you to see the physiological benefits of introducing new energy to your body. Use that benefit by utilizing its effects, and create deeper observation into yourself. With every single inhalation, this observation will enable you to generate even more energy, mentally and physically.

3. Peacefulness

Keep your attention on your exhalation, and feel how, out of the relaxation, peacefulness is spreading throughout your whole body. The exhalation is the symbol for relaxation and peacefulness. Only through meditation can you realize what absolute peacefulness means.

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4. Patience

The meditation delivers the previous benefits to you immediately and opens up the possibility for many other benefits and great virtues. A specific one to mention, which is essential for reaching the ultimate benefits of meditation, is patience. If you have experienced the aforementioned benefits, it means that you have invested a certain amount of patience into mastering yourself and your mind.

The Ultimate Benefits of Meditation

Patience is a key quality when it comes to the ultimate benefits of meditation.

Since the mind is the tool that reveals everything, mediation is the method for the proper utility of the tool.

The above mentioned benefits of mediation lead to the ultimate benefits of mediation—qualities that depict what makes a human being human. As you dwell in a meditative state of being, the following benefits begin to emanate:

  • Diligence: the persistence for righteous effort to reach an intrinsic value; inner strength.
  • Temperance: to express self-control and show excellence in managing the physio-biological and mental necessities
  • Courage: using righteous effort and braveness to look into the weaknesses of yourself and at the hardship of your life, endure it and patiently overcome the obstacles
  • Loving kindness and Compassion – a capacity to care, understand, and tolerate other people’s state of being, wishing them freedom from suffering.
  • Wisdom: the moment when you feel that mediation gives you the feeling and the knowledge that what you do relating to life and practical affairs is just.
  • Equanimity: that puts you in a state of composure, and you experience an ongoing blissful state of being.

These are the 6 ultimate benefits of meditation that put your body and mind in a state of health and balance.

Final Thoughts

Mediation exists to put order in your mind and awaken the best of you, to reconnect you to your goodness and your inborn intelligent capabilities.

Meditation is the window to your true Self. It gives you a panoramic view of your heart’s greatness. It shows you the true meaning of love, freeing you from the dungeons of ignorance and despair. The power of meditation dismantles the evil that’s trying to cloud the beauty of your heart.

Your heart, body, and soul are the bridge over which the challenges of life frequently carry their heavy load. Meditation is the support of that bridge. Make use of that support.

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Featured photo credit: Mor Shani via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Medline Plus: Changes in the newborn at birth

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