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Alex Douglas-Kane shares her experiences and understanding of Discover Nature Awareness

Thursday, 16 September 2010

How a Walk in the Woods Can Save Your Life...

According the Health Sciences Institute stress is a killer.

That's generally acknowledged. But I wonder if people who cope daily with high stress levels are actually aware that stress really can TAKE your LIFE.

Research shows that one of the ways your body reacts to stress involves the release of chemicals linked to chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Stress-related habits like overeating, sleep deprivation, and lack of exercise just add to that downward spiral.

Are you terrified yet?

If this stress spiral resembles your day-to-day life, then you may be an ideal candidate for a Japanese custom called shinrin-yoku, which translates as "forest bathing."

If you just pictured a bathtub in a forest — no, that's not forest bathing. Think of it like sun bathing. With shinrin- yoku, you immerse yourself in a forest or a park with plenty of trees for an hour or two, or however long you can. Take a walk. Enjoy the aromas, the sounds, the forest air.

But this is more than just a pleasant getaway. Research shows that forest bathing actually prompts physiological changes in your body that do more than help you relax — they actually empower your immune system and undo the harmful effects of stress.

Getting a whiff

Some researchers believe that exposure to phytoncides produces at least part of the beneficial effect of forest bathing.

Phytoncides are antimicrobial essential oils that protect plants from insects and other predators. In a forest setting with plenty of foliage, phytoncides become airborne — easily picked up by any forest bathers who might pass through.

Four years ago, a team from Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, studied the effect of phytoncides on the activity of natural killer (NK) cells. These cells seek out and destroy viruses, bacteria, and toxins. As you might guess, they're a vital line of your immune system's natural defence.

In this laboratory study, phytoncides significantly enhanced human NK activity.

One year later, the same Nippon Med team was back with another study that took them out of the lab and into the forest.

This time they recruited a dozen healthy middle-aged men who worked for large Tokyo corporations. Blood samples were taken before and after several forest trips over three days. In 11 of the 12 subjects, NK activity increased by about 50 per cent, and anti-cancer proteins were also generated. Later blood samples showed that these positive changes lasted more than seven days.

One year later, a study of the same design — but this time with women — produced nearly identical results. Again, the boosted NK levels lasted more than a week.

Apparently, "stop and smell the roses" may actually be life- saving advice.

It's nice to have tings you already know confirmed to you by research.

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