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Forest Bathing and Nature Gazing

I didn’t really want to go. I was pretty comfy at home with my computer, my teapot, and a few squares of dark chili chocolate. But the sun was shining and I would only have a few more opportunities to head up the mountain, click on the skis, and take to the slopes.

In my own coaching sessions, I chose to focus on incorporating regular encounters with nature into my routine. My friend, Bethany, had invited me to go “forest bathing” in our local arboretum. Now I am pretty open-minded, but this made me laugh. Forest what?? I knew that I loved walking in the woods, hiking the trails, and that a vista of natural beauty was always rejuvenating. Little did I know that specific research has been done on the effects of spending time in the forest! Others have studied the effects of simply having a view of nature out the window of your hospital room or even prison cell. You won’t believe the findings!

Research studies have shown that time in the forest increases energy and feelings of well-being and decreases stress levels, anxiety, depression, and anger due to decreased cortisol levels. That alone would be reason enough to incorporate forest bathing into one’s lifestyle, but it also has been shown to have a dramatic impact on the immune system. Studies have shown that after time in the forest, blood tests reveal a significant increase in natural killer cells (NK cells). These are part of the immune system and one component of the cancer fighting department. Researcher Qing Li, MD, PhD attributes this effect to essential oils from the wood of the trees permeating the air under the forest canopy. The effects of just a two hour exposure lasted up to seven days and a 2-3 day exposure lasted a full 30 days.

Other studies have shown that hospital patients who have a view of green space and trees use less pain medication and have shorter, more positive hospital stays. Another study showed that prison inmates whose cells faced green space had significantly less conditions requiring medical care when compared with inmates whose cells faced a concrete yard.

While we have much to learn about the effects of nature on our health, it is safe to say that spending time using our senses to enjoy the sights, sounds, aromas, and textures of nature adds greatly to our wellbeing. Not only are they free, but green spaces, forest trails, and stunning vistas are readily available. Will you join me in making a plan to regularly take in nature’s medicine?

 

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