It is well publicized that spending time in natural settings promotes health and well-being. This knowledge has even impacted the design of public spaces in cities and business. These natural settings include parks, open spaces, and the like. Recent research has shown that one of nature’s most healing settings, the forest environment, may promote better health benefits than others and can even prevent cardiopulmonary diseases. Researchers have found that as little as 15 minutes of wandering in the forest can have health benefits.
The Japanese have lead the way in this research and have developed a practice call Shirin-yoku. Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “forest bathing.” (In Japanese, shinrin means forest, and yoku, among other things, means “bathing, showering or basking in.”) Shinrin-yoku is more than simply walking in the woods. It involves breathing deeply and using all of your senses to take in the forest. The idea is to slow down and “smell the roses”. No really. Take the time to actually look at the shape of the flower, to actually smell it, and feel the texture of the bark on the trees you see, listen to the birds or running streams or the rustle of leaves.
Much research supports that spending time in nature has both long and short-term health benefits, especially when we spend time with trees in a forest. This practice has been shown to “lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, to raise parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity.”
As result Shirin-Yoku provides the following HEALTH BENEFITS:
• Lowers blood pressure
• Reduces stress
• Improves mental clarity
• Enhances immunity
• Lowers pulse rate
• Decreases blood glucose levels
• Increases parasympathetic nerve activity
• Lowers sympathetic nerve activity
Researchers have looked into what it is about Shirin-Yoku that provides all of these benefits. An article published in the Huffingtonpost reveals that “Microbial differences on the skin of those living in close proximity to more diverse vegetation may directly influence immune function throughout the body and may even influence mood. Indirectly, microbes help manufacture the airborne phytonides — natural chemicals secreted from trees — that are linked to healthy immune functioning … Benefits are not exclusive to remote wilderness. Local nature and backyard biodiversity are often within easy reach, and they can provide ample benefit.”
That is fortunate, because, if you are like me your access to a forest is extremely limited if not completely inaccessible.
Other reasearch has shown that gardening can provide many of the same benefits. Yep, Gardening.
A research conducted by Dorothy Matthews and her colleagues found that a natural soil bacterium, which people likely ingest or breathe in when they spend time in nature, can have antidepressant qualities and increase learning behavior. What’s interesting is that this microbe has been found to “mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide. It helps to stimulate serotonin production, helping to make you feel happier and more relaxed.”
Another interesting benefit of gardening is being well grounded. Literally, yes literally, grounded. An article published by the NIH showed that “grounding increases the surface charge on Red blood cells and thereby reduces blood viscosity and clumping. Grounding appears to be one of the simplest and yet most profound interventions for helping reduce cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular events.”
To get the most benefit from grounding you have to actually be in contact with the ground. Bare hands, bare feet, moist soil.
That is where gardening comes in. Not only do you get the benefits of the produce itself you also get the benefits of the process itself.
For more about other healthy living tips and sustainable gardening click here