Science-backed benefits of forest walking that will surprise you
(NaturalHealth365) There is strong scientific evidence coming out of Japan about the anticancer effects of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. In fact, according to Dr. Qing Li – one of the world’s foremost experts on shinrin-yoku, forest walking may prevent chronic illnesses like cancer, reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones.
Chronic stress slowly kills. Environmental toxins like car fumes and industrial wastes, processed foods, and EMF pollution increase our cortisol levels and the risk for disease. Bottom line, most people in modern society are stressed out and need to relax – much more.
A growing body of evidence supports the idea of getting out in nature may just be what you need
There’s simply no debate – forest bathing provides a natural environment of grass, trees, and fresh air – which can literally bring you back to life. Thankfully, there is mounting scientific data to prove that being in contact with nature is good for us physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Naturally, it is widely thought that leaving the noise and stress of everyday life and spending more time in nature is good for us. Researchers have now been putting this understanding to the test. Unfortunately, only until recently, the practice of walking in the woods was never really investigated using laboratory equipment.
Medical studies prove forest walking offers multiple health benefits
The studies which began in Japan sought to find the physiological impact of forest bathing. Dr. Li, an associate professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo and current president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, has conducted experiments to test forest bathing on human health.
The studies found favorable effects on mood, stress level, and immune function. The scientists in Japan back up the work done by Boris Tokin, a Russian researcher, who discovered trees and other plants actually release chemicals called phytoncides. This chemical protects plants from harmful pathogens and can offer significant health benefits to humans.
How does forest walking reduce cancer risk?
The profile of the Mood States test showed that forest bathing trips significantly increased vigor in test subjects – while decreasing anxiety, depression, and anger. This factor alone was shown to decrease the risk of stress-related diseases like heart disease and cancer.
The studies on immune system function showed an increase in the activity of natural killer (NK) cells – a component of the immune system in charge of preventing cancer. Wouldn’t it be nice if every (conventionally-trained) oncologist talked to their patients about this?
Here is one of the best studies to date
In one particular study, subjects experienced a 3-day/2-night trip to three different Japanese forests. Prior to the forest visit, the same subjects participated in a city tourist visit – consisting of a 3-day/2-night trip to Nagoya city, which had very few trees.
The class of hotel and the lifestyle of the subjects during the stays in the hotels were the same for the city and forest trips. The walking courses of both trips were 2.5 km.
Interestingly, the city tourist visit did not increase participants’ natural killer cell activity or the expression of selected intracellular perforin (more about this in a moment). These findings showed that forest bathing trips did increase natural killer cell activity, the number of NK cells, and the levels of perforin.
You may be wondering – what is perforin? It’s actually a protein, known for breaking into cells that have been taken over by a virus or turned into a cancerous cell and allowing toxic enzymes in. This process destroys the cell from within. But, without this protein, the immune system can’t destroy rogue cells.
Breathing in this unique chemical compound may be responsible for anticancer effect
Dr. Li attributes the increase in NK activity partly to breathing in air containing phytoncide – an essential oil from the wood – like α-pinene and limonene, which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds emitted from trees to protect them from rotting and insects.
By the way, phytoncides are natural preservatives and fungicides, classified as antimicrobial volatile organic compounds, and can also be used as essential oils in aromatherapy.
These phytoncides induce NK cell activity, which kills tumor cells by releasing anticancer proteins. In fact, it’s been shown that ‘forest bathers’ have increased this activity by 50%. So, it makes sense, living in heavily forested areas is associated with a decreased risk of early mortality and cancer. For example, researchers compiled data from several major cities in Japan and found that populations that lived in areas with more trees had a decreased rate of several different types of cancer.
Forest walking offers immediate POSITIVE results
Walking in a forest or park strengthens your white blood cells, lowers your heart rate, reduces blood pressure and decreases the stress hormone – cortisol.
By breathing in the aroma of the plants – we are saturating our body with chemicals known for their ability to prevent infections, viruses, and cancer. So, remember, the next time you’re in the forest – hug a tree and take a deep breath, because it may just save your life.
Sources for this article: