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7 Amazing Health Benefits of Walking in the Woods You Probably Don’t Know

7 Amazing Health Benefits of Walking in the Woods You Probably Don’t Know

Did you know the Japanese have a word for “forest bathing”? It is shinrin-yoku. As you can imagine from the translation, it just means losing yourself in the forest while enjoying the air, the scents, the vegetation and the sounds of birds and animals that live there. But did you know that there are some amazing health benefits as well? Apart from the obvious ones like getting fresh air and exercise, there are studies that show that a walk in the forest or a park with lots of trees may be the healthiest thing you can do.

1. It may help prevent cancer.

A vital part of our immune system is made up of NK (Natural killer) cells which can fight cancer. Could a walk in the forest really get those cells going? That was what researchers led by Dr. Li of the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, set out to show. They took blood samples from small groups of volunteers before they set out on their forest expedition. They spent two or three days in the forest. After their stay in the forest hotel, their blood was taken again for analysis and it showed a remarkable increase in the NK cell activity which also lasted for a month afterwards. Even a one day forest trip showed an increase in these cells although the long term effects were obviously shorter. Imagine the health benefits of doing this on a regular basis!

2. Scents of the forest may reduce stress.

Scents and smells have a powerful effect on our health and emotions. It seems that smells are closely tied to the emotional center in our brain. This is why certain smells and scents can arouse a sense of nostalgia or other emotions relating to our past.

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But can they help reduce stress? This is what researchers at Kyoto University wanted to demonstrate. They asked subjects to evaluate their moods and stress levels on their forest days and on the control days when they were in their normal environment. Their conclusions show that the forest days were crucial in reducing their chronic stress.

As to why this happened, the explanation given by scientists is that pine, fir, cedar and cypress trees contain the phytoncides such as alpha-pinene and beta-pinene which make up the essential oils of many plants and trees. These were found to decrease levels of the cortisol stress hormone.

3. It may help with depression.

In an interesting study, Londoners living near trees were found to have better mental health. Even the presence of street trees seemed to have a positive outcome and one study found that areas with more trees had lower rates of prescriptions for antidepressants.

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The fact of being near a tree or seeing it change with the seasons helps people to cope with living in an urban setting which can be depressing in itself. Much better to go for a walk in a forest but many people have to make do with gazing at a tree or a walk in a neighboring park.

4. It can make your brain work better.

Walking through a forest or green area with trees has been found to aid memory and learning. Forest kindergartens have become popular in Germany where there are approximately 450 while in the US and the UK, the idea is slowly taking off. Research indicates that children playing in these forest environments are better at many cognitive skills but also have better manual dexterity and can assess risks better than those kids educated in an enclosed space. The great thing about this outdoor education, even if it is just a day out, is that children learn about the importance of forests, their maintenance and how they help the planet.

5. A forest walk can help lower blood pressure.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in America are promoting National Trails Day because they know that a natural environment such as a forest really does have enormous health benefits. It also helps to maintain the forests as working parties are invited to participate.

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One of the health benefits mentioned is that forest walks can help to keep your blood pressure down. Japanese researchers asked a small group of volunteers to go for a two hour walk in a forest park in the Tokyo suburbs. As a control, they had to do a similar walk in an urban setting. After all the tests were carried out, the group had lower blood pressure when walking in the forest area than when they walked in the city area.

6. It can help overweight people get back in shape.

According to the Global Burden of Disease study, nearly 30% of the world’s population is now obese or overweight! In the UK, 67% of males and 57% of females are now in the overweight category. There are many solutions but walking, cycling, tai chi or doing conservation work regularly in forested areas will help. The Forestry Commission in Wales (UK), together with help from family doctors are strongly recommending that people with weight and other health problems should take a walk in the forest. It is far healthier than doing a workout in the gym.

7. Forest walks are great for reducing loneliness.

As you will see from the Facebook page here, walking in the green, forested woodlands is one of the best ways there is to overcome general health problems and above all, reduce loneliness by walking with other people.

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451 years ago, Shakespeare was well aware of the benefits of walking for health.

“…a turn or two I’ll walk,
To still my beating mind.”
Prospero, The Tempest.

So, what are you waiting for? That urban park or nearby forest is just crying out for a visit from you!

Featured photo credit: Young woman is in the park on a winter’s day and is hugging a tree via shutterstock.com

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Robert Locke

Freelance writer

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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