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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 November 11, 2019

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

Have you ever noticed that some people are able to effortlessly remember even the most mundane details and quickly comprehend new things? Well, you can too!

To unlock the full potential of your brain, you need to keep it active and acute. Wasting time on your couch watching mindless television shows or scrolling through facebook is not going to help.

Besides getting out flashcards, what can you do to help remember things better and learn new things more quickly? Check out these 10 effective ways on how to improve memory:

1. Exercise and Get Your Body Moving

Exercising doesn’t just exercise the body, it also helps to exercise your brain. Obesity and the myriad of diseases that eventually set in as a result of being overweight can cause serious harm to the brain.

Furthermore, without regular exercise, plaque starts to build up in your arteries, and your blood vessels begin to lose the ability to effectively pump blood. Plaque buildup leads to heart attacks and it also reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. When the nutrients don’t make it there, the brain’s ability to function is compromised.

To prevent this from happening, make sure you get moving every day. Even if it’s just a brisk walk, it’ll help you maintain and increase your mental acuity. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are all excellent activities. Take a look at these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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2. Eliminate Stressors and Seek Help If You’re Depressed

Anything that causes you major stress, like anger or anxiety, will in time begin to eat away the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory. Amongst the most brain-damaging stressors is depression, which is actually often misdiagnosed a a memory problem since one of its primary symptoms is the inability to concentrate.

If you can’t concentrate, then you might feel like you are constantly forgetting things. Depression increases the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus which is where short-term memories are stored.

Prolonged depression can thus destroy your brain’s ability to remember anything new. Seek professional help to combat your depression – your brain will thank you.

3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Take Naps

Getting a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will increase your memory. During sleep, the brain firms up memories of recently acquired information.

Getting enough sleep will help you get through the full spectrum of nocturnal cycles that are essential to optimal brain and body functioning during the waking hours. Taking a nap throughout the day, especially after learning something new, can also help you to retain those memories as well as recharge your brain and keep it sharper longer.

4. Feed Your Brain

Fifty to sixty percent of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages and the quicker you will be thinking.

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This is precisely why parents are advised to feed their young children whole milk and to restrict dieting – their brains’ need fat to grow and work properly. Skimping on fats can be devastating even to the adult brain.

Thus, eating foods that contain a healthy mix of fats is vital for long-term memory. Some excellent food choices include fish (especially anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon) and dark leafy green vegetables. Here’re more brain food choices: 12 Foods that Can Improve Your Brain Power

Deep-fried foods obviously contain fat but their lack of nutritional value is not going to help your brain or your body, so think healthy foods and fats.

5. Eat Breakfast and Make Sure It Includes an Egg

According to Larry McCleary, M.D., author of  The Brain Trust Program, an egg is the ideal breakfast. Eggs contain B vitamins which help nerve cells to burn glucose, antioxidants that protect neurons against damage; and omega-3 fatty acids that keep nerve cells firing at optimal speed.

Other foods to add to your breakfast include fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Avoid trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Trans fats diminish the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and HFCS can actually shrink the brain by damaging cells.

Having a healthy breakfast in the morning has been shown to improve performance throughout the day. If you’re too busy to have a healthy breakfast, this maybe just right for you: 33 Quick And Healthy Breakfasts For Busy Mornings

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6. Write it Down

If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but do you really know why? Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it. Here’s How Writing Things Down Can Change Your Life.

You can start a journal, write yourself emails or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.

7. Listen to Music

Research shows that certain types of music are very helpful in recalling memories. Information that is learned while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled by thinking of the song or “playing” it mentally. Songs and music can serve as cues for pulling up particular memories.

8. Visual Concepts

In order to remember things, many people need to visualize the information they are studying.

Pay attention to photographers, charts and other graphics that might appear in your textbook; or if you’re not studying a book, try to pull up a mental image of what it is you are trying to remember. It might also help to draw your own charts or figures, or utilize colors and highlighters to group related ideas in your notes.

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Here, you can learn How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results.

9. Teach Someone Else

Reading material out loud has been shown to significantly improve memory of the material. Expanding further upon this idea is the fact that psychologists and educators have found that by having students teach new concepts to others, it helps to enhance understanding and recall.

Teach new concepts and information to a friend or study partner, and you’ll find you remember the information a lot better.

10. Do Crossword Puzzles, Read or Play Cards

Studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles, read or play cards on a daily basis not only keep your brain active but also help to delay memory loss, especially in those who develop dementia.

So pick up the daily newspaper and work on that crossword puzzle, read a book or enjoy a game of solitaire.

Pick one to two of these tips first and start applying them to your everyday life. Very soon you’ll find yourself having better memories and a clearer head!

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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