By SCOTT ELNES
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Getting a Central Oregonian to believe that spending time in the woods is a healthy lifestyle choice is like shooting fish in a barrel.
Only the barrel is a river and the gun is a fly rod.
But did you know that there is actual science behind why we are better off in the woods? It has to do with your immune system. But I’ll let the woman who literally wrote one of the books on it, tell you more.
“The concept of forest bathing arose in Japan. Doctors Lee and Miyazaki in the 1980s started appreciating the level of mental illness and stress and the high incidents of suicide in Tokyo and started hypothesizing that if they took people outdoors in nature, perhaps that would help them with these mental health issues and their stress levels,” said Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller. “So they started taking people an hour outside of the city into the forest and did practices with them that involved taking nature in through the various senses.”
What some people thought was “woo woo” science, turned out to have real-world science to back it up.
“They did questionnaires on their participants before and after their experiences. They found that memory and attention span were better. Then they took measurements of things like blood pressure and salivary cortisol, which would be a measurement of stress and they found that those levels had improved after this time spent taking nature in just quietly through the senses in this very prescribed way.”
Trees naturally secret certain chemicals, some of which you can smell, but others that actually raise your body’s ability to fight off viruses.
“There are chemicals in plants called phytoncides, and these phytoncides exists in all different plant types. It has been found that they help protect the plant against outside invasion from things like bacteria and viruses and fungi. They also have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties, so they protect the plant against inflammation. “
The research showed that what is good for the tree, is also good for us.
“The exciting thing is that phytoncides have been found to confer the same kinds of benefits to humans that they do to the plants. So they help us with regard to fighting infections, which is a very timely piece of information, is it not, in a time of a global viral pandemic that taking in these phytoncides by just being in contact with nature and with plants helps us also to fight against infections, helps to reduce our levels of inflammation and things like that.”
I’m a meteorologist. And if you want advice about what the weather will be like for you trip into the woods, I’d say talk to me.
But since Hackenmiller is not only a doctor but also the Medical Advisor for the AllTrails mobile app that many of you are familiar with, she’s not only telling you to take a hike, in this case, it’s literally doctor’s orders.