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A leisurely stroll in forest might improve health

July 24, 2010|by CELESTE MAIORANA / Special to The Herald-Mail
  • A view from a forest path on a recent July morning.
Photo by Celeste Maiorana,

We know that forests are important for a healthy planet and that they provide products that enhance our well-being.

Recently, research into a direct connection between trees and human health has been turning up some intriguing results.

Studies show that a short leisurely stroll in a forest has measurable, positive effects upon human health, and that the presence and kinds of vegetation in human communities affects the health of the individuals living there.

In Japan, a team of researchers has been studying the practice of "shinrin-yoku," which translates as "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing."

The Ministry Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan initiated a project between 2004 and 2006 to find out what effects forests have on human's health.

They found that walking in a forest area for a short time or sitting in a chair viewing the same forest scenery may result in lower concentrations of cortisol (a hormone released in response to stress), lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, enhanced the "rest and digest" or parasympathetic nervous system, and quieted the "flight or fight" or sympathetic nervous system, when compared to walking in or viewing an urban setting.

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Other studies indicate that forest environments may reduce hostility and depression, "especially among those experiencing chronic stress." From their findings these researchers conclude that "shinrin-yoku may be employed as a stress reduction method, and forest environments can be viewed as therapeutic landscapes."

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory is dedicated to studying the connection between greenery and human health and has conducted research in poor urban environments.

Their findings include:

Green activity settings improve the behavior of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Views of trees from home improve girls' self-discipline

Trees near home boost concentration and the ability to cope.

Grassy areas with high canopy trees can reduce the crime rate.

Trees near homes reduce domestic violence.

Green residential landscaping strengthens communities.

We humans seem to be hard-wired to find natural settings less stressful than urban settings, and calming to us when we feel stressed. While our highly developed urban areas and parking lots are important, the inclusion of shade trees, grassy areas and gardens has many positive effects.

High canopy trees and pleasant grassy expanses with gardens appear to increase the likelihood that residents will walk around their community and use public areas. This promotes greater bonding with neighbors, increases the sense of community, and makes it safer and healthier for all.

Plant trees, make gardens and promote community and urban forestry where you live. The whole planet will benefit.

And walk in a forest near you. Your health might be better for it.

Celeste Maiorana is a member of the Washington County Forest Conservancy District Board, which promotes forest conservation in Washington County. For more information, please visit the board's website at http://www.wcfb.sailorsite.net.




I first heard of shinrin-yoku from Anahad O'Connor's Really? column, published in the New York Times on July 5, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/06/health/06real.html?_r=4

Abstracts of the Japanese research into the practice of forest bathing conducted by Y. Tsunetsugu, B.J. Park, & Y. Miyazki, can by found online here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19585091 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19585091

Website ,of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: http://lhhl.illinois.edu Their articles are available free to interested persons.

The Forestry Board website has information about parks & trails and articles and links on planting trees, pruning your trees to keep them healthy & safe, and community and urban forestry. http://www.wcfb.sailorsite.net .

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