Four Ways Spending Time Around Trees Makes us Healthier
What is your go to when you feel stressed? Do you have one? Lately, I have been digesting the powerful energy of “trees “on my daily walk. Trees represent life. They give oxygen, beauty, demonstrate strength and stability and nourish our souls.
As I dropped off a friend at their house the other day I was moved by the bamboo trees lining the front path of the house. I learned that “Bamboo absorbs greenhouse gases and releases oxygen into the atmosphere. It is also a renewable resource that may help save the world’s dwindling forests.”Mar 13, 2018
I stopped and marveled at their symmetrical shape, beauty, color and abundance. Like mint, when you plant bamboo it spreads rapidly.
Various studies in the U.S. and around the world are exploring the health benefits of spending time outside in nature, green spaces, and, specifically, forests. Honoring those benefits, in 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries even coined a term for it: shinrin-yoku. It means taking in the forest atmosphere or “forest bathing,” and the ministry encourages people to visit forests to relieve stress and improve health.
Research is shedding light on how spending time outdoors and in forests makes us healthier.
Exposure to forests and trees boosts our immune system. While we breathe in the fresh air, we breathe in airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect their immune system. When people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural T cells. In one study, increased NK activity from a 3-day, 2-night forest bathing trip lasted for more than 30 days. Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.
Spending time around trees and looking at trees reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves mood. Numerous studies show that both exercising in forests and simply sitting looking at trees reduce blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Studies examining the same activities in urban, unplanted areas showed no reduction of stress-related effects. Using the Profile of Mood States test, researchers found that forest bathing trips significantly decreased the scores for anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and fatigue. And because stress inhibits the immune system, the stress-reduction benefits of forests are further magnified.
Spending time in nature helps you focus. Spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, birds and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, allowing us to focus better and renew our ability to be patient.
In children, attention fatigue causes an inability to pay attention and control impulses. The part of the brain affected by attention fatigue (right prefrontal cortex) is also involved in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Studies show that children who spend time in natural outdoor environments have a reduction in attention fatigue and children diagnosed with ADHD show a reduction in related symptoms. Researchers are investigating the use of natural outdoor environments to supplement current approaches to managing ADHD. So in moments when you need support turn to nature, trees and the like to uplift you. You can find solace there!