Forest Therapy

     I thank my friend Kathy Ferger for alerting me to research on forest therapy.    

     For those of us who go to the woods for the peace and well-being we experience there, the results of some recent scientific research will come as no surprise.

     Since the 1980s, scientists in Japan have been studying the effects on people of taking walks in the forest.  The researchers have found that people who take even short walks in the forest are measurably more calm, relaxed, and less stressed.  Walking in the woods has also been shown to strengthen the immune system and to lower blood pressure.  

     Japan’s leading scholar in forest medicine, Yoshifumi Miyazaki, found that the average concentration of the stress hormone salivary cortisol was 13.4% lower in those who gazed on forest scenery for 20 minutes than in people who stayed in an urban environment.  

     Another study, in which 25 adults spent two nights at a forest hotel and took three leisurely strolls in the woods while there, showed that the activity of a cancer-fighting component of the subjects’ immune system increased.  The author of the study, Li Qing, a senior assistant professor of forest medicine at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School, also noted that the increase could still be  observed 30 days later.  Li attributes part of the benefit of time in the forest to breathing air containing phytoncide, essential wood oil given off by plants. 

     The research shows that the conventional wisdom–that the scents of trees, sounds of birdsong, and the feel of sunshine through the leaves have a calming effect–is right, says Miyazaki.  After all, he points out, humans lived in nature for several million years.  “We were made to fit a natural environment, so we feel stress in an urban area.”  Miyazaki believes that ”when we are exposed to nature, our bodies go back to the way they should be.” 

     The forest therapy research in Japan is being embraced by governments and citizens alike.  In 2006, a government-affiliated organization began designating certain forests ‘forest therapy bases.’  To date, more than 30 such bases have been designated, based on evidence documenting the sites’ relaxing effects. 

     Forest therapy bases are typically maintained by local governments.  At some of the bases, visitors can take guided walks with experts on forests and health care.  At one base, medical checkups among the cypress trees are offered to visitors for free every Thursday.  And some companies are even including forest therapy in their employee health care programs.  Li Qing believes that in a few years, a forest therapy program will be developed to help patients whose immune systems have been compromised.

     In the next few years, Miyazaki hopes to see the establishment of 100 forest therapy bases.  And he would like to see them in a variety of forest environments.  “Some people like broadleaf forests,” he explains, “and others prefer forests of  conifer trees like hinoki cypress that give off a strong aroma.”

     While it seems obvious to me that time spent in a forest promotes physical and mental well-being, I’m glad that some of the benefits of a walk in the woods have been scientifically documented.  With concrete evidence of such effects readily available, the enormous value of forests may be appreciated by more people.–April Moore

photo by Sabine Simons

photo by Sabine Simons

 

    

4 Responses to “Forest Therapy”

  1. Joan Brundage Says:

    This is what we’ve already experienced! Thanks, April, for confirming this.

  2. Jon Ruggles Says:

    After having what battling what doctors thought was terminal cancer I got well on my mountain bike in the woods here in North Idaho. The more climbing I did the faster I recovered. It also gave me a place to thank my creator under the Church of the Blue Dome. Its been six years and this year I climbed up an alpine pass by my house 60 times logging 107,400 vertical feet or 3 1/2 times Mt Everest from sea level.– every bit was sacred. Thanks April

  3. April Says:

    Wow, Jon! Thank you for sharing this inspiring story! Maybe the healing powers of the Idaho forests were joined by the healing powers of exercise. I once biked through Idaho’s Lochsa Wilderness, and it was unforgettable. I am glad you’re so healthy today.

  4. Felipe Says:

    Thanks for posting this article April!

    This weekend, talking to my roommate which is a Counselling student I kinda figured out that this is the kinda of activity I want to be engaged to.

    I started reading about it today, but as a grad student, my time is limited but I am willing to dedicate more time to it.

    Sites like yours are really good to give us an idea what’s is going on out there.

    I searched the Myiazaki website (http://forest-therapy.jp/index.php) but it’s all in Japanese characters.

    If you have more arcticles in English that you know off, could you please email authors and paper’s so I can take a look at them?

    Thanks again!
    Felipe

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