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.
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,