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Science Finds That “Forest Bathing” Can Really Make Us Mentally Healthier

Science Finds That “Forest Bathing” Can Really Make Us Mentally Healthier

What is Forest Bathing?

Forests have always held a special place in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. In 1982, the Forest Agency of Japanese government initiated shinrin-yoku, a national public health program. Its objective is to encourage Japanese residents to get involved with nature and to expose their bodies and minds to the overhead tree canopy. This eco-therapy is relatively simple as the goal is to accomplish nothing. When forest bathing, there is no need to hike or run. The focus is on merely roaming about the forest, taking it all in, and breathing.

The notion that time spent in the forest results in improved physical and mental health is not new, but rather rooted in many ancient customs and traditions. Today, however, research has backed up these claims. Some of the proven benefits of forest bathing include reduced production of the stress hormone cortisol, boosted levels of happiness, and an increased ability to focus and concentrate.

The Effects Of Forest Bathing On Cortisol Levels

One Japanese study, conducted under Institutional Ethical Committee of the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute regulations, set out to measure the effects of forest bathing on cortisol levels. Researchers gathered 280 subjects and identified 24 forests for testing. Each experiment involved groups of 12 individuals walking through and viewing either forests or urban areas.

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Cortisol measurements were taken at the research facility in the mornings before breakfast, before and after walking, and before and after viewing. The test took place over 2 days. On the first day, the group was split between urban and forest settings and on the second day, they switched locations.

Results indicated that forest exposure led to lower concentrations of cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as reduced blood pressure and heart rate.

Other Positive Psychological Effects Were Proven

Other research has indicated that forest bathing has positive psychological effects. In this study, researchers utilized the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Scale and the Multiple Mood Scale, which measures depression, friendliness, boredom, hostility, liveliness, and well-being.

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498 volunteers participated over a span of 2 days. On the first day, they answered the surveys twice after forest exposure. The second day was a control in which participants responded to the surveys in a controlled environment.

Results concluded that, after forest bathing, hostility and depression decreased while liveliness increased. Interestingly, the findings indicated that the effect was greater on higher levels of stress. This research suggests that forest bathing can be beneficial as a stress reduction tool which may, in turn, reduce the risk of psychosocial stress-related diseases.

It Can Also Boost Your Immune System

Yet another benefit of forest bathing is that it boosts immune system functioning. Several studies have shown an increase in Natural Killer cells (NK cells) after exposure to forests and phytoncide, an essential oil derived from wood.

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NK cells produce a rapid immune reaction against viral-infected cells and work to prevent tumor formation. These cells are able to identify, attack, and kill infected cells that lack major histocompatibility complex (MHC). Without MHC, detection of infections is missed by other cells, like T lymphocytes. Researchers, who had previously shown that NK cell production remains elevated in both men and women for longer than 7 days after a weekend forest trip, conducted another study in 2010.

This time, the researchers sought to measure the effects of a 1-day trip to the forest in male immune systems. Twelve volunteers participated in the study, walking for 2 hours in a forest in the morning and afternoon. Researchers took blood and urine samples prior to the trip and for 8 days following forest exposure. The findings indicated that NK cell and anti-cancer protein activity increased after the forest bathing experience. Tests of the forest air also identified a presence of phytoncides.

Get out of the city!

Armed with this information, it’s safe to say that you deserve a trip either out of the city or to a nearby forest park this weekend. Find a walk under the trees that is easy and preferably under 3 miles. Stroll slowly, take in your surroundings, and find somewhere to sit and think for a while. Practice deep breathing and remember, the goal is simply to spend time in the forest. You’ll come away feeling refreshed, relaxed, and more energetic!

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Featured photo credit: Ersi via Pixabay via pixabay.com

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Amber Pariona

EFL Teacher, Lifehack Writer, English/Spanish Translator, MPA

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Last Updated on May 22, 2019

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

There are lots of studies that show if you do some exercise in the morning, you will be in a better mood all day long. You will have more energy and you will certainly be a better colleague, friend or partner.

One psychologist at Duke University has researched the effects of exercise on depressed patients and he has come to the conclusion that exercise has a definite role in treating this condition and has an important role in preventing people from relapsing.[1] According to the New York Times, scientists have now established that exercise also boosts your brain power.[2]

In addition, there are studies from the Appalachian State University which show that blood pressure can be reduced by doing regular morning exercise.[3]

Here are 10 simple morning exercises that will help you feel great the whole day long. You can include some of them in your morning exercise routine or do them all at home without having to enrol in a gym. Consult your doctor before starting any form of exercise routine if you are new to this.

1. Cat Camel Stretch

Stretching exercises are useful for muscle toning and also preventing arthritis. They can either be dynamic or static.

Dynamic ones such as the cat camel stretch, are particularly useful for doing other exercises in the morning. They are also beneficial at other times of the day, especially after long periods of sedentary work. This one is great for spinal flexibility and is a good warm up exercise.

Kneel down on all fours. Start by rounding your back just like a camel so that your head will try to meet your pelvis. This is the camel position. Then lower and lift your head so that your lower back is arched. This is the cat position. Do these movements slowly and smoothly. About 4 or 5 times.

Here’s a video to guide you through:

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2. Go for a Walk or a Run

This is better done outside so that you can connect with nature but running inside on a treadmill is almost as good. You can time yourself and increase length and time according to your fitness program.

Always have new goals to reach. Start with brisk walking and work up to running. At my age, I am still walking!

The health benefits are considerable. You can build stronger bones and you can help to maintain your weight.

Also, you are helping your heart to stay healthy and keeping your blood pressure low.

Learn more about the benefits of running here: 8 Benefits of Running 5 Minutes Every Day You Didn’t Know

3. Jumping Jacks

Michelle Obama is a great fan of this exercise and has become “Jumper in Chief.”[4] They are great for cardiovascular health and also for toning muscles especially the calves and the deltoids.

Stand with feet together. Jump while spreading your arms and legs. Return to first position and keep going! You can start with doing these for 1 minute and then gradually build up to the number you are comfortable with. Here’s how:

4. Abductor Side Lifts

Watch the video below to see how to do this exercise. These muscles are important because you use them everyday to run, get into the car or onto and off a bicycle. They are very important also for your core stability and prevent the pelvis from tilting.[5]

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Do about 10 to 15 raises for each side like this:

5. Balancing Table Pose

This is a classic yoga pose. It benefits the spine, balance, memory and concentration.

Start with the table pose (hands and knees). Breathe in before starting each movement. As you exhale, raise your left leg parallel to the floor as you raise the right arm, also parallel to the floor. Breathe in as you lower arm and leg. Repeat for the other side. 10 repetitions on each side is a good starting point.

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    6. Leg Squats

    Not just legs are involved but also hips and knees.

    Stand with your feet a bit further out from your hips. Arms are out in front of you. Then lower yourself as if you wanted to sit down until you reach a 90 degree angle. You can go down further if you want to. Then return to the starting position. Repeat 15 times for 2 sets for beginners.

    The benefits are that these exercises help with knee stability and can benefit the leg muscles such as quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.[6]

    7. Push Ups

    You start lying down (face down) but with your body held up at arm’s length. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders. Breathe in as you lower your body. That is fairly easy. Now, as you exhale, you have to get back up to the starting position.

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    An easier version to start with is to bend your legs at the knees so you do not have to lift your whole body.

    Beginners may take up to a month to be able to do 100 push ups so you will have to start with a very small number and gradually increase it.

    This exercise is great for strengthening the chest, shoulders and the triceps. It is a great strengthening exercise for many muscle groups. In fact, most muscles from the toes to the shoulders are being used.

    8. Bicycle Crunches

    There are numerous crunch exercises targeting the abs. The bicycle crunch is a variation where you work more muscle groups. Aim for 15 to 20 reps to start off with.

    Watch the video to see how this is done correctly:

    9. Lunges

    Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Place your hand on your hips. Take one giant step forward with the right leg. Make sure the knee does not go too far forward, that is, past your toes. The left knee will go down to almost floor level. Alternate the legs as you go on.

    Try to do a set of between 8 and 12 reps for each leg. It is important to allow for a day of rest, so this exercise should be done on alternate days, especially if you are using weights.

    This exercise is great for strengthening and toning the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

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    10. Bicep Curls

    You can do this sitting down so if you spend a lot of time on the phone, this is a great exercise to do.

    Choose suitable dumbbells or another household object that you can easily hold. Sit down with the dumbbell in your hand. You need to sit forward a bit so that your triceps can lean on your thigh to give you support.

    Then bring the weighted arm up to shoulder length and then down again. Exhale as you lift the weight and inhale as you lower it.

    Here’re some important notes before you start doing this exercise:

    Try to do one or two sets of about ten repetitions for each arm and then switch arms.

    These exercises are really useful for toning the arm muscles.[7] In addition, they can strengthen and tone the brachioradialis muscle located in the forearm. These are the muscles we use to pick up things when we flex the arm at the elbow so we use these muscles countless times a day.

    You may have to build in a rest day for the heavier exercises, numbers 6–10. On the rest days, you can do gentler stretching exercises and also some walking or running.

    Morning exercise is not only a great mood booster, but will help you keep your weight down and also sleep better![8] Start including one or some of these exercises in your morning routine!

    More Articles About Exercises for Beginners

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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