There is no better place to gain a healthy helping of timeless perspective and balancing energy than deep in the heart of the woods. Simply being in the presence of a plant or tree is refreshing and renewing, but the shadowy trails and hallowed atmosphere of forests and wooded areas can also strengthen the mind and improve the health.
While the idea of curative energies pulsating through the air smacks of fantasy, fairy-folk, and enchanted forests, medical science says otherwise. Many modern experts are applying a scientific methodology for unraveling the mysteries of the forest’s reputed benefits. Clinical studies are now explaining why a walk in the woods, garden or city park can keep you safe from conditions of the mind and body.
With all the human health risks associated with convenient modern living and urban environments, trees and forests provide preventative treatments and remedies. Following are some of the most important reasons to make forests, parks, and trees a bigger part of your healthy lifestyle.
Trees Mean Exercise
Trees are designed perfectly for climbing, hiding, stretching, moving, lifting, planting and more. This was pretty obvious to most of us when we were kids – it was the grown-ups who were sometimes confused. But, as we get older the forests still provide a great opportunity to break out of the linear city scene and engage the body in whole new ways.
Simply walking a forest trail means applying muscles systems that see some atrophy on the flat pavement and sidewalks where we spend most of our lives. Walking on the uneven ground of a twisty forest trail relaxes strained muscles and refreshes unused muscles, making this easily one of the most subtle forms of good exercise available.
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Taking time to stretch muscles, oxygenate the blood and invigorate the body is not just fun and relaxing though. Regular exercise improves digestion, fights diseases, prevents injuries and keeps the major organs working in optimal function.1
The convenience of the modern age can easily lead to sedentary lifestyles and the health conditions they include. But, trees, parks, and forests are the solutions. From gardening to hiking and even the highly-beneficial practice of Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing), there are many ways to physically engage with nature for better health and a longer life.
Trees and Forests Relieve Stress
Unprecedented high levels of stress and anxiety are a plague in modern society. While stress is an important part of a natural human function, such extreme application of this process can leave you vulnerable to sickness and even many forms of cancer, according to some experts. The body has a remarkable capacity to fend off disease, but this capacity can be greatly diminished by high-stress levels.
Plants and trees are the absolute go-to for reducing stress and resume regular operations. Studies have shown that simply looking at trees and plants helps the body to move from stressed out (fight or flight mode) to the relaxed (rest and digest) mode. The same study showed that the color green was capable of inducing relaxation just as a red filter provoked anger and monochromatic filters (grayscale) evoked feelings of depression.2
Trees are relaxing in color and soothing to the eyes in their graceful, asymmetrical balance. Just having plants in the vicinity creates an atmosphere of reduced stress. This was proven in the grim and stressful atmosphere of a hospital room where the presence of indoor plants had a soothing effect on those exposed to the scene. Other studies have suggested that people who don’t spend enough time in the good company of plants are more prone to becoming stressed out and anxious than those with green thumbs and hiking boots.3,4
This is a concept greatly appreciated in Finland, home of the beautiful and expansive boreal forests. Researchers working with the Finnish Forest Institute are looking for ways to educate the visitor about the best practices for taking full advantage of forests’ beneficial nature. They have created a forest trail designed for maximum “Well-Being”.
Along the well-planned path are small signs inviting the forest devotee to “listen to the voice of nature” or “feel your mood improve, as you feel a rock, leaf or tree”. Indeed you can greatly improve your interaction with the forest by adjusting your behavior and frame of mind. As we will see in the following section, this can greatly enhance the abundant benefits available in your local thicket.5
Forest Air is Curative and Therapeutic
Japanese researchers have uncovered strong evidence that shows spending time in the forest can help cure diseases and prevent future conditions. The practice being studied is called “Shinrin Yoku,” which literally translates to “forest bathing,” and involves a full sensory immersion in the therapeutic surroundings of a forest.
One of the most profound aspects of forest bathing involves breathing in deeply the forest air and partaking of natural, organic compounds produced by trees and vegetation of all types. It’s just like aromatherapy—the same compounds that soothe, relax, stimulate and regenerate are inhaled deeply with many similar results.
Another important benefit from forest therapy is the dynamic increase in Natural Killer cells. NK cells are a type of white blood cell that specifically targets tumor and cancer growths. They are also important for fighting viral disease. Research has shown that two nights in the forest increased the levels of NK cells in test subjects. Furthermore, these levels remained elevated for another month after forest therapy. 6,7
Results like these have made the practice of forest therapy increasingly popular in Japan where forests of Cedar, Cypress, and Beech are plentiful. Shinrin Yoku is also the inspiration behind the MONQ Forest Personal Diffuser which contains all the healthy organic compounds of forests from across the globe in a portable presentation.8
Forests Can Refresh the Mind
The mind can become cramped and strained if it is not given some room to run wild and free of the confines of space and time. In the forest, finite concepts of time and space are rubbed out in lieu of infinite concepts like balance and mutual support. This is a mental therapy of the best type and has implications on improving cognitive function.
ADHD is a term we hear often today, and while it seems everyone from small children to full-grown professionals has it, no one is really sure where it comes from. Studies have indicated that natural settings, namely beaches, forests, and mountains, have a soothing effect on ADHD symptoms. One test showed that a 20-minute walk through a park was more effective at improving concentration than a 20-minute walk through the city, for a group of 7- to 11-year-olds. 9
Making Forests a Part of Your Life
You don’t have to be living near the Colorado Aspens or New England Oaks to enjoy the fragrant aromas or delectable sights of plants, forests, and vegetation. Making forests and trees a bigger part of your life can be done anywhere and, as we can see, the benefits are great and greatly needed.
Take time from your regular schedule to visit the city parks or gardens in your area if you can’t actually drive out to the surrounding countryside. Reading up on the practice of forest bathing can provide you with insights into getting more from the plants in your environment too. You can find out more about this therapeutic culture here.10
Finally, you can have all the curative benefits of a forest of Black Spruce, Cypress, Douglas Fir, sandalwood and more in the MONQ Forest Blend. The perfect refresher for a forest enthusiast living in the big city. Check out the shop to see what other blends might aid you on this journey!
Photo Credits: nd3000/shutterstock.com, Doidam10/shutterstock.com, szefei/shutterstock.com, PressMaster/shutterstock.com, JacobLund/shutterstock.com