Research in Japan has demonstrated that being in green spaces improves a person’s immune system. In Japan, when possible, people leave the city for a day in the woods for “forest bathing,” “shinrinyoku” in Japanese.
In two studies—one included 260 healthy people and another 12 people—it was deduced that forest bathing, which is walking through woods and forest glades, lowers the pulse and blood pressure. The effects lasted a month. Tests of the subjects’ saliva showed decreased levels of cortisol, meaning they were less stressed.
The test subjects were divided into two groups: those who stayed in an urban environment and those sent to a forested area. Both groups engaged in the same activities and ate the same diet. It is thought that the chemical phytoncides, an oil that defends trees from insects and decomposition, somehow affect the chemicals in the human brain.
In other studies, it was demonstrated that there was an increase in natural killer cells that fight cancer, an increase in white blood cells, and a reduction of glucose levels in diabetics.
Professor Qing Li, president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine said forest bathing “can have preventative effect on cancer generation and development.”
An article in The Epoch Times (Sept. 24, 2010) mentions that research has shown that tranquil scenes calm the brain by changing its blood flow. There are also more connections being made among different parts of the brain.
Japanese scientists have also concluded that the feel of the sun, the scent of trees, and the sound of water can have a calming effect.
Getting in touch with nature is being used as therapy and education elsewhere. Eeva Karjalainen of the Finnish Forest Research Institute, which deals with socially sustainable forest management, supports the findings and says that forest visits promote physical and mental health by reducing stress.In the U.K. and in Europe, depression is being treated with farm work and gardening. Whether it is tending plants or animals, the act of caring for something alive in the fresh air has had a positive effect on patients with clinical depression.
The U.K. has 42 care farms, Norway has 400, and the Netherlands 600. The U.K. farms are part of a wider school of thought in ecotherapy: Even walking can be a useful therapy. U.K. studies have shown that 71 percent of people who take a “green walk” feel less depressed.
A school in the south of England has its young students spend a portion of their day in the greenery. It has been observed that the children will seek out their own small spaces in addition to experiencing and learning about nature.
In the United States, there have been studies about the positive effects of green spaces on hyperactivity and ADHD. Maybe we all need a little patch of green to call our own.
The research may have been funded by those with a vested interest, but perhaps we really should stop and smell the roses. And the fir trees!
Elissa Michele Zacher is a writer with publications in apt (an online literary magazine), The Northeast Poetry Journal, and in the Freedom Press. Her poetry and articles are based on her travels, family, and observations.