Tree huggers are smarter

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More and more people are moving to live in urban areas. It’s said that in 2050 even 70 percent of people would be living in cities. That inevitably leads to decrease of nature time. It’s a real bummer because of all the beneficial effects, that forest bathing has on our overall health and wellbeing.

Direct attention failure

Urbanization forces us to think about the wellbeing of our brain. In this screen-based world, our brain must work hard to eliminate the features of web pages that are of little relevance to the information that we are trying to find. Even if these continuing distractions wouldn’t be enough, but our brain must also make increasing number of little everyday decisions. The amount of choices in our modern society is just overwhelming. That consumes the energy of our cognitive brain, which oversees planning, abstract thinking, creativity and cognitive flexibility.

That same part of our brain is also involved in self-control issues. We can only imagine, what happens when the energy is low in that area of the brain, which controls our unhealthy cravings. Our self-control diminishes and it causes problems like overeating, overspending and impulsive or risky behavior.

This kind of directed attention failure could be remedied by environmental settings, that are softly fascinating and effortlessly engage the inhabitants. Forest bathing in parks or other natural environments would be appropriate medicine.

Do mini forest bathing to feel more comfortable, relaxed and natural?

Studies have shown, that less contact with nature, seems to remove some of the layers protecting us against psychological stress. Restricted nature connection, especially in younger age, diminish our capability to cognitive rejuvenation. Kids in the nature kindergartens, have been found to be more alert, better in using their bodies and significantly more likely to invent games of their own.

There was a research, that was done in Japan (2015), where test subjects spent 3 minutes in the same room with either artificial pansies or real living pansies. The results concerning the psychological effects of viewing pansies for 3 minutes were unbelievable. Findings indicate, that 3 minutes with real pansies made test subjects to feel more comfortable, relaxed and natural. The difference between real and artificial ones was statistically significant.

Can you find little piece of nature during your workday and 3 minutes of time? I know you can and that’s a real fast food for your brain.

Rumination and stressing over everything?

Do you have work-related rumination? Are you stressing over things, that haven’t even occurred or are you simply overloaded by some events, that are obsessively replaying in your mind? That kind of thinking pattern has been associated with a range of negative health and wellbeing issues.

Research has shown that people who ruminate find it difficult to stay focused and maintain their attention on the task at hand. I believe, that you can relate to that. Cognitive processes such as planning, working memory, mental flexibility, analyzing are all affected by this unhealthy pondering.

Stress loves this kind of monopoly on thinking. The longer this awfulizing of events goes on, the more the incorrect belief is amplified. We believe, that this must be true, because it is happening in our head, in brains! But thoughts are not real, only experiences.

When we have these exhausting thoughts, that make us feel overloaded at work, one part in our brains is really active: subgenual prefrontal cortex. Again, I would love to tell you about one study made in Stanford University. This research was started with questionnaire, that measured the normal level of rumination in test subjects. Also, the blood flow in participants’ subgenual prefrontal cortex was examined.

After these test, half of the participants strolled 90 minutes along quiet tree-lined pathway. The other half walked same time next to a loud highway.

The results of the study were, again, fascinating. Test scores in questionnaires of nature strollers’ showed meaningful improvement in mental stamina. Also, the blood flow in subgenual prefrontal cortex was diminished. The part of our brain, that does catastrophizing and “what-ifing”, was quieter after forest bathing.

Nature puts things into right perspective

In our hectic modern lifestyle, we often try to keep all the strings in our hands and control everything. When we fail to do this, it causes stress. Going to nature and noticing, that there is a whole wide world outside you, puts things into perspective.

There are two aspects in nature, that are particularly important. First one is the experience itself. You can leave the interpretation at the office and concentrate on experience as it is. Use all your senses and leave out the rationalizing.

Another one is the continuity and deep connection with nature. Let your selfdom be adjustable and expand into your natural surroundings. Feel having all the space you need and connect with the scenery. Leave it up to nature to put things into perspective, if your mind tries to take over. Remember, your thoughts are not real, only experience is.

Forest bathing and creativity

The creative part of our brain is blooming, when we are in nature. Nature offers us soft fascination, such as birdsong and water flow. Our attention is drawn to these things effortlessly.

Have you ever just laid down and watched the clouds moving across the sky? After you have settled yourself, you can watch those clouds as you were mesmerized. You won’t get bored, there might be thoughts popping in your mind, but they’ll come and go. Your mind is free to wander, but not drained. You are in a kind of a flow state and giving your cognitive brain a break.

The feeling of continuity and expanding ourselves into the nature, makes our thinking more expansive too. We may find different points of view and think outside the box. In research of psychological and cognitive effects of the outdoors, it was found that nature can sharpen our minds. The participants had a four-day hiking trip to nature. Before and also afterwards their hiking trip, they took a creativity and problem-solving test. After time spent in nature, their performance was increased by 50 percent.

If you have a hectic and demanding workweek ahead, it would be beneficial to do some forest bathing in the form of camping on the preceding weekend.

Nature environment and cognitive skills

Our cognitive abilities are not fixed for the lifetime rather we can improve them with some lifestyle changes. Spending time in nature is one of them. There have been numerous researches, that support the idea, that interaction with nature improves attention and memory. Research paper published in Psychological Science in 2008 studies this phenomenon even further. (Check out blog post about links between nature and memory HERE)

In the study, The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature, the restorative effects on cognitive functions were studied in natural versus urban environments. The focus was on directed attention, which has huge role in cognitive and emotional functions. Direct attention impacts for example on one’s short term memory and school success.

First the participants did a mood test and then a backwards digit-span task, where they had to repeat digit sequences in backward order. Sequences were three to nine digits long. In this test participants kind of had to move things in and out of their attentional focus. After that they performed more cognitive tasks to further their fatigue.

When all the tests were done, participants were divided in two groups. The other one had a 50-minute walk in nearby park and the other group in downtown streets. Then they were tested again. First of all, the mood of nature walkers improved significantly compared to the city dwellers.

Secondly, nature walkers test scores in backwards digit-span task improved by 19 percent and results were coherent when repeating the test. City dwellers did not improve their scores in convergent way. This experiment was repeated and test scores didn’t correlate with changes in mood. Hence it wasn’t the mood that impacted on the capacity of brain, it was nature. Forest bathing matters!

Is there link between nature pictures and cognitive skills?

This same research group conducted also another study where participants were shown nature or city pictures. Both groups had equally peaceful surroundings to watch pictures, yet only viewing pictures of nature produced cognitive improvements.

Nature captures our attention effortlessly and unnoticed. That limits the use of our direct attention and gives our cognitive brain time to breath and recover. This has been known among writes and philosophes for ages. No costs, no side-effects and available to everybody.

Four components of cognitively restorative environment

There are four main aspects, that affect the degree our brain can recover in natural settings. First one is being away. This can be physical, like visiting park, or reframing our current environment by changing the direction of our attention. Shift you focus away from meeting diary or Excel sheets to nature view in window, forest scenery on your wall, nature scenery on the screen… Or simply, just close your eyes and go for a forest adventure.

Second factor is fascination. I don’t believe, that anyone can argue not being fascinated by natural world. We love to watch clouds moving through the sky, touch round shaped beautiful stones, enjoy sunsets or ladybugs. These things grab our attention in soft way, without struggle, They give us more than they take.

Thirdly there needs to be extent. It means, that the natural settings need to have depth, dimension and sense of space. Maybe compelling coiled pathway, that promises you some adventure. In the light of this aspect, it would be better to connect with a picture of nature scenery than living plant. But in many workplaces, you can do both!

The last one is compatibility. Natural environment must coincide with your intentions and make you feel satisfied. Great nature place to recharge your brain, fulfills your expectations effortlessly.

Thank you for having time to read about forest bathing and the effects it has on our brain functions. Now I’m of to four-days boating trip alongside the coast of western Finland. Lots of nature, forests, water and play!

Business Meetings in Nature Boost Your Creativity, Productivity and Health

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When уоu thіnk mееtіngѕ, you tурісаllу іmаgіnе drаggіng a соuрlе extra chairs іntо thе bоѕѕ’ѕ оffісе, or a stuffy соnfеrеnсе room without wіndоwѕ thаt уоu’ll be trарреd inside for thе next соuрlе of hours. But thаt doesn’t always hаvе tо bе thе саѕе—nоw that іt’ѕ ѕummеrtіmе, thеrе аrе рlеntу of great benefits thаt come with switching uр уоur meeting in nature surroundings. Whether уоu орt tо hаng оut іn thе соurtуаrd just оutѕіdе уоur office, or еnjоу раtіо seating аt thе nеаrеѕt restaurant, уоu’ll bе amazed at the wоndеrѕ thаt an оutѕіdе mееtіng dоеѕ for уоur tеаm. The presence of nаturе and nature connection can boost thе thinking аnd ԛuісk аѕѕіmіlаtіоn оf your еmрlоуееѕ.

Thе sit-down meeting may bе a basic part of hоw уоur оrgаnіzаtіоn gets things dоnе, but соnѕіdеr whether іt rеаllу іmрrоvеѕ уоur оrgаnіzаtіоn’ѕ рrоduсtіvіtу. Thе human body does ѕоmе оf іtѕ bеѕt thіnkіng whеn mоvіng. Lоng bеlіеvеd tо bе a рrоduсtіvіtу hасk, wаlkіng mееtіngѕ саn аlѕо bооѕt creativity and help whіtе-соllаr wоrkеrѕ get muсh-nееdеd еxеrсіѕе, rесеnt research shows.

Meeting in Nature Settings Improves Communication

Wаlkіng outside breaks dоwn thе barriers bеtwееn mаnаgеmеnt аnd еmрlоуееѕ. Yоur employees mау bе able to gеt thеіr роіntѕ across mоrе ѕuссіnсtlу and ԛuісklу thаn іf thеу were sitting dоwn асrоѕѕ a bіg table frоm уоu. Whіlе оutdооrѕ, реорlе bесоmе mоrе rеlаxеd аnd іn tunе with thеіr surroundings, mаkіng it еаѕіеr tо ѕау whаt thеу are thіnkіng аnd feeling. Jeff Wеіnеr, thе CEO оf LіnkеdIn, discovered thаt with wаlkіng mееtіngѕ, the соnvеrѕаtіоnѕ are mоrе саndіd—роѕѕіblу bесаuѕе the two реорlе аrеn’t mаkіng dіrесt еуе соntасt—wіth minimized dіѕtrасtіоnѕ.

Nature Boost the Energy Levels

Many office wоrkеrѕ experience thе 2:00 р.m. ѕlumр. I know it from my own experience as a financial office worker. Thіѕ lоw-еnеrgу time оf thе day lеndѕ itself to рооr fосuѕ аnd соnсеntrаtіоn. Tаkіng your mееtіng outside оf thе оffісе аnd hаvіng еvеrуоnе wаlk around іѕ аn invigorating еxреrіеnсе. Thе frеѕh аіr, ѕunѕhіnе аnd gеntlе brееzе renew еvеrуоnе’ѕ energy аnd restore the аbіlіtу tо fосuѕ.

Walking Meetings for Hеаlthіеr Bodies

Sіttіng fоr ѕіx hours реr dау during thе wоrkdау hаѕ bееn found to іnсrеаѕе сhоlеѕtеrоl lеvеlѕ, blооd ѕugаr and blооd pressure. Gеttіng your ѕtаff outside and having mееtіngѕ in nature helps to аdd some рhуѕісаl activity to their days. Mоrе асtіvе еmрlоуееѕ аrе hеаlthіеr and may еxреrіеnсе fеwеr іllnеѕѕеѕ.

New Idеаѕ

Thе оutdооr еnvіrоnmеnt is always сhаngіng. Frоm thе leaves оn the trees to the bіrdѕ іn thе air, no two оutdооr mееtіngѕ wіll bе thе ѕаmе. Aѕ your ѕtаff engages durіng wаlkіng mееtіngѕ, thе сhаngіng ѕсеnеrу may аlѕо inspire new іdеаѕ and mоrе creative thіnkіng. Yоur оrgаnіzаtіоn саn benefit from thе increased creativity and the nеw ѕоlutіоnѕ thаt ѕuсh creativity саn brіng іntо thе workplace.

Simply mоvіng оutѕіdе thе оffісе саn ѕрur аn іnflux of new іdеаѕ. Yоu can gо ѕо fаr аѕ turnіng your mееtіng into a “wаlkіng mееtіng” іn оrdеr to еxреrіеnсе thіnkіng іn a different wау, аnd get in ѕоmе exercise whіlе you’re аt іt. Chаngіng thе scenery, whether уоu dесіdе to hеаd оutѕіdе or nоt, саn аffесt thе wау уоur еmрlоуееѕ dо wоrk іn general.

If уоu hаvе a раrtісulаrlу сrеаtіvе аgеndа ѕеt fоr a meeting, like brаіnѕtоrmіng your nеxt bіg mаrkеtіng campaign, tаkе thе team outside. Be amazed whаt a meeting in nature and gеttіng a breath оf frеѕh air can dо tо lіtеrаllу and fіgurаtіvеlу to your еmрlоуееѕ’ іdеаѕ.

Cаѕuаl ѕеttіng = саѕuаl аttіtudе

Juѕt as реорlе act dіffеrеntlу dереndіng оn what thеу’rе wearing, they also асt dіffеrеntlу depending on thеіr рhуѕісаl еnvіrоnmеnt. Uѕuаllу, wе tend tо асt a little looser оutѕіdе than we do at the оffісе. Tаkіng thе орроrtunіtу tо сhаt оn a саѕuаl level and ореn uр thе conversation beyond wоrk саn hеlр реорlе fееl more comfortable.

Rесhаrgе Yourself at the Same Time as You Enjoy Your Meeting in Nature

Being оutѕіdе іѕ healthy fоr уоu. Along wіth the rise іn your Vіtаmіn D levels, уоur еndоrрhіnѕ аnd оvеrаll fосuѕ аlѕо ѕріkе whеn уоu spend ѕоmе time оutdооrѕ. If уоu’rе fееlіng lіkе уоu need to rеgrоuр аnd rесhаrgе your batteries, сhаnсеѕ аrе ѕоmе оf уоur еmрlоуееѕ might bе fееlіng thаt wау tоо. Brіng еvеrуоnе outside fоr a ԛuісk mееtіng in nature аnd rеар thе hеаlth, psychological, аnd еmоtіоnаl benefits. Yоu’ll enter those оffісе dооrѕ аgаіn feeling lіkе a nеw реrѕоn, ready to tаkе оn thе rest оf thе dау!

Combining work and nature connection is just a matter of arrangements.  So go ahead and put together a meeting in nature settings or suggest one for your boss. You won’t be disappointed with the results.

Warm and loving thoughts,

Heidi

Improve Your Life with Forest Therapy: 8 Proven Facts

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Every now and then, I meet someone who has started doing nature connection exercises, but they have no clear vision why. Now I am going to give you 8 strong and sound whys!

Research has proven, that spending time in anything to do with nature, like forests, the sea or wildlife – restores us. It help us to manage stress. Studies show, that even having an indoor plant or picture of forest scenery makes a difference to our health.

Phytoncides

I am so excited to tell you how forest therapy can improve your health. Several factors have been found to produce the health improvements in forest therapy. They work best together and sometimes it is hard to distinguish, which one has done the most part of the healing process. A major player here is phytoncides. They are fragrances emitted by forest trees.

Phytoncides have various functions, such as controlling the growth of the tree, insecticide, anti-fungal, antibacterial and many other medical actions. Mainly phytoncides are produced to help plants and trees protect themselves from harmful insects and germs.

Vitamin N and our Immune system

When we inhale phytoncides, forest fragrance, it gets into your body to boost our immune system. Our bodies respond to these phytoncides by increasing the number and activity of one type of white blood cells called natural killer cells. These NK cells kill tumor- and virus-infected cells in our bodies. One study has brought up a result, that 3-days exposure to phytoncides increased NK cell activity by 40% and the effect lasted for 30 days.

It is believed, that phytoncides were at least partly responsible for the positive effects on NK cell activity. Researchers have also tested phytoncides in laboratory settings. These tests confirmed, that phytoncides increase anti-cancer proteins and improve natural killer cell activity. That makes monthly forest walks a notable mean to fight cancer. It could even have a preventive effect on cancer development.

“3-days exposure to phytoncides

increased NK cell activity 40%

and the effect lasted for 30 days”

The healing effect of phytocides is also accessible in home environment. You can for example vaporize oil from cypress tree. In one study, three days’ exposure to vaporized phytoncides increased NK cell activity by 20%.

The healing benefits of nature cannot be fully explained with only phytoncides. Also, the green scenery, different shapes, soothing sounds of streams and birds, sunlight, negative ions, and natural aromas of wood, plants and flowers play a huge role. This indicates, that our health is dependent on the health of our natural environment. We are supposed to take care of each other.

Lower blood sugar

A Japanese study with nearly hundred adults diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, has something interesting to offer. During six years’ research, participants had a walk in nine different occasions. Walks took place in forest surroundings and half of the group walked 3 kilometers, and other half walked 6 kilometers. At the end of the study, researchers found that participants had lower blood sugar and improved insulin sensitivity compared to results in the beginning.

Important notion is, that ofcourse, any form of exercise helps to improve blood sugar regulation in people with diabetes. Researchers thought, that factors to do with forest had a major role in improvement of blood sugar levels. There was two reasons for that conclusion. First, the forest walks were so infrequent, that they did not exactly have a workout effect.  And secondly, the blood sugar levels were not significantly different between those who walked the longer trail and those who walked the short one.

Better concentration, enhanced cognitive skills and improved memory

Our lives are busier than ever with jobs, school, family life and all that addictive technology. Trying to focus for long periods of time, can be mentally draining. But when spending time in nature, looking at plants, listening to the sound of water and birds, the cognitive brain gets a break. Spending time in nature helps us to concentrate and that way increases even our productivity.

Forest therapy also improves our working memory. In one study, a bunch of students took a memory test and then they were divided into two groups. The other one took a walk in a park and the other walked in the city street. When the participants returned, and did the test again, those who had walked in nature did almost 20% better compared to the first test. The city group did not consistently improve their results.

“The effect was as dramatic as

the effects of Ritalin, they said”

A research in the United States, has investigated the effects of nature on ADHD in children. They studied 17 children diagnosed with ADHD and exposed them to three different environments: city park, downtown and residential settings. After 20-minute walks in a city park, children experienced improved concentration compared to groups that walked 20 minutes in other settings. The effect was as dramatic as the effects of Ritalin, they said.

Natural environment have been examined as a complementary treatment for children with attention deficit disorder. Nature as a medicine has advantages of being widely accessible, inexpensive and free of any negative side effects.

Forest Scenery Reduces Stress

According a Japanese study, forest settings were associated with lower levels of cortisol, slower heart rates, lower blood pressure and enhanced activity of parasympathetic nervous system. Parasympathetic nervous system promotes relaxation. The study measured these attributes within two groups, other spend time in forest and other in city.

There have also been stress related studies, that measure salivary cortisol levels and they have had same kind of results. Even just gazing at forest scenery for 20 minutes reduces salivary cortisol levels by 13.4%. Cortisol is the stress hormone, that over prolonged periods can harm our immune system, along with other negative effects.

Looking at pictures of trees and nature sceneries has a similar, but less striking effects. Researchers have concluded that, forest trips may effectively decrease the risk of stress-related diseases. That is important finding, because stress is modern societys plague.

Enhanced mental health, mood and creativity

Researchers found, that forest trips significantly decreased the scores for anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and fatigue in Mood States test. In one study, almost 500 Japanese adults were surveyed on days they spent time in a forest and on days they spent in their normal environment. The study revealed that, compared to their normal surroundings, inside a forest the participants reported less depression and hostility, and felt more alive.

In another research, test subjects with depression diagnose, were assigned to four-week long forest therapy program. They were tested before and after. The results were staggering. The depression test showed 50% improvement.

“Nature as a medicine has advantages of being

widely accessible, inexpensive

and free of any negative side effects.”

It is important to notice, that the greater the level of stress is, the greater is the positive effect of forest therapy. Nature’s positive impact on depression and stress is even greater when combined with workout or the presence of water. Maybe forest walks could reinforce existing treatments for depression.

In many studies, green environment improved also person’s self-esteem and increased creativity. Three days of hiking and camping in the wilderness increased creativity test scores by 50% according to a joint study by the University of Kansas and University of Utah.

Forest therapy lessens experienced pain and boosts recovery

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine studied the effects of nature scenery and nature sounds on participants’ pain perception. Researchers came to conclusion, that viewing a nature scenery and listening to nature sounds is a safe and inexpensive way to reduce pain.

It has also been discovered, that patients recover faster from surgery, when they have a nature view. Patients also managed with fewer painkillers and had fewer postsurgical complications compared to those who had no nature view.

Improved eyesight especially among children

In particular, among children, outdoor activities have protected eyes and reduced the risk of developing nearsightedness. There has been a study, that followed almost 2,000 children for two years and came to conclusion, that more time spent outdoors resulted a lower prevalence of myopia among 12-year-olds. Important discovery is, that this result wasn’t found among kids who spent a lot of time playing sports indoors. In Taiwanese school, increase in outdoor play resulted in 52% decrease in rate of myopia. That’s an outstanding discovery.

Playing in nature settings forces you to look alternating long and short distance. Nature is also rich with colors and shapes, which gives your eyes a much-needed workout. Nature offers a good environment for other kinds of workouts too.

Better physical fitness

Then there is of course the physical side. Walking in nature prevents obesity and enhances your fitness. That is a commonly accepted truth. In forest environment you usually move on uneven ground. That means a serious workout for your core muscles, when trying to stabilize your body.

I’m really fond of the idea of natural movement. One of these is called MovNat. It is comprehensive and holistic approach and it uses the full range of natural human movement abilities. MovNat consider modern human as a zoo-human. And to be honest, they are somewhat right. Our nowadays workouts do consist of series of monotonic and artificial movements.

I hope, that you find these health benefits of nature as amazing as I do. Well, this was really thick and kinda theoretical commentary. I wish you survided with minimal discomfort and I’ll promise to be more easy going next time. See you soon!

Warm and loving thoughts,

Heidi