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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

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on May 15, 2019

How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity

How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity

As it appears, the human mind is not capable of not thinking, at least on the subconscious level. Our mind is always occupied by thoughts, whether we want to or not, and they influence our every action.

“Happiness cannot come from without, it comes from within.” – Helen Keller

When we are still children, our thoughts seem to be purely positive. Have you ever been around a 4-year old who doesn’t like a painting he or she drew? I haven’t. Instead, I see glee, exciting and pride in children’s eyes. But as the years go by, we clutter our mind with doubts, fears and self-deprecating thoughts.

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Just imagine then how much we limit ourselves in every aspect of our lives if we give negative thoughts too much power! We’ll never go after that job we’ve always wanted because our nay-saying thoughts make us doubt our abilities. We’ll never ask that person we like out on a date because we always think we’re not good enough.

We’ll never risk quitting our job in order to pursue the life and the work of our dreams because we can’t get over our mental barrier that insists we’re too weak, too unimportant and too dumb. We’ll never lose those pounds that risk our health because we believe we’re not capable of pushing our limits. We’ll never be able to fully see our inner potential because we simply don’t dare to question the voices in our head.

But enough is enough! It’s time to stop these limiting beliefs and come to a place of sanity, love and excitement about life, work and ourselves.

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So…how exactly are we to achieve that?

It’s not as hard as it may seem; you just have to practice, practice, practice. Here are a few ideas on how you can get started.

1. Learn to substitute every negative thought with a positive one.

Every time a negative thought crawls into your mind, replace it with a positive thought. It’s just like someone writes a phrase you don’t like on a blackboard and then you get up, erase it and write something much more to your liking.

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2. See the positive side of every situation, even when you are surrounded by pure negativity.

This one is a bit harder to put into practice, which does not mean it’s impossible.

You can find positivity in everything by mentally holding on to something positive, whether this be family, friends, your faith, nature, someone’s sparkling eyes or whatever other glimmer of beauty. If you seek it, you will find it.

3. At least once a day, take a moment and think of 5 things you are grateful for.

This will lighten your mood and give you some perspective of what is really important in life and how many blessings surround you already.

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4. Change the mental images you allow to enter your mind.

How you see yourself and your surroundings make a huge difference to your thinking. It is like watching a DVD that saddens and frustrates you, completely pulling you down. Eject that old DVD, throw it away and insert a new, better, more hopeful one instead.

So, instead of dwelling on dark, negative thoughts, consciously build and focus on positive, light and colorful images, thoughts and situations in your mind a few times a day.

If you are persistent and keep on working on yourself, your mind will automatically reject its negative thoughts and welcome the positive ones.

And remember: You are (or will become) what you think you are. This is reason enough to be proactive about whatever is going on in your head.

Featured photo credit: Kyaw Tun via unsplash.com

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