Historically, sages, shamans or healers have highlighted the power that nature is capable of exercising over our health. The researchers believe that this idea comes from the ancestral contact that the first settlers had with wildlife, which, over time, was declining.
In recent years, health professionals and scientists decided to investigate the role that nature plays in health and how to take advantage of it to obtain multiple benefits. Forest therapy is the most popular expression of this type of activity, and here we tell you what it consists of.
Shinrin-yoku, “bathing in the forest” or forest therapy, is a Japanese practice that consists of making visits to forests or green spaces with the aim of “immersing oneself” in them through the five senses, and thus obtaining general well-being or a benefit specific. This activity is popular in Japan and the Far East, and in recent years its incidence has grown in the West.
Unlike hiking, trekking or guided nature walks, whose objective is to identify flora or fauna, forest therapy uses trained guides to establish a rhythm that invites the participant to experience the pleasures of nature through their senses. .
Shinrin-yoku emerged in Japan during the 1980s in response to a national health crisis. Japanese leaders warned of an increase in diseases related to the stress, attributed to people spending more time working in technology and other industrial jobs. To alleviate the “lockdown” and its consequences, certified trails were created to guide people through outdoor experiences.
After decades of research, many specialists say that this type of practice could be useful to alleviate the context of pandemic due to coronavirus that we are currently going through, since in recent months the cases of distancing or isolation to control infections have increased, and that confinement increasingly reinforces the need to be outside.
Experts point out that it is not necessary to spend a lot of time in nature, nor is it necessary to do it in forests, to obtain its benefits. There is even evidence showing that these practices are not only useful to reduce stress levels, but also to improve attention, stimulate immune system, relieve pain and even protect cardiovascular health.
The power of nature
Different investigations support the benefits of green spaces. For example, a study published in Scientific Reports, analyzed more than 20,000 people and reported that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature was linked to better self-reported health and well-being. It didn’t matter if the 120 minutes represented a long trip or several short visits to nature, so even if we are complying with physical distancing, we can go out to enjoy our daily 20 minutes.
In 2018, Aruni Bhatnagar, director of the Center for Obesity and Diabetes at the University of Louisville, published a paper in Journal of the American Heart Association, warning that living in a neighborhood with lots of green trees, shrubs, and other types of vegetation could be good for heart and blood vessel health.
Other study, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and Medicine, found that children with asthma who live in cities tend to experience fewer symptoms if they are near a park or green spaces.
“These results are important because they provide further support for the benefits of city parks and suggest that proper building policies can improve the health of children,” said Kelli DePriest, author of the research.
What are your benefits due?
In both these and other investigations, specialists believe that the benefits of forest therapy may be due to the fact that trees emit volatile essential oils, called phytoncides, which have antimicrobial properties and can influence immunity.
The oils have 3-carene, a component that has been associated, particularly in animal studies, with a reduction in inflammation, protection against infections, decreased anxiety and even better quality of sleep.
Decreases in the levels of the hormone cortisol, responsible for stress, have also been noted among participants who regularly took walks in the forest, compared to those who did so in laboratories, urban environments or who simply did not practice them.
Even people confined to bed can benefit from observing nature, as, as an old study published in Science, improvements were seen in the recovery of hospitalized people who had exterior sight compared to those who did not.
Don’t wait any longer to enjoy your daily dose of green spaces! If you are interested in forest therapy, Harvard Medical School informs that Nature and Forest Therapy Association trains and certifies forest therapy guides around the world. These help participants to understand the forest and deepen their relationship with nature, in order to achieve better health and well-being.