The answer to high blood pressure, depression, stress and maybe even cancer could be as close as the green space outside your window.
Every day we are bombarded with studies, commercials and images that communicate that illness is the norm and health is fleeting. But people are looking beyond the information overload and finding that a variety of “wellness practices” are proving that sometimes a simple - even unconventional - answer brings health and well-being.
One example is an approach being practiced - and studied - in Japan called shinrin-yoku or “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19585091)
It was only formally recognized by the Japanese government in 1982.
And already today there are 48 official Forest therapy trails maintained by Japan’s Forest Agency. Park rangers regularly measure visitors’ vital signs to validate the health benefits of the practice. (Outside Magazine, December 2012, “The Nature Cure,” p. 81)
Since 2004 the Japanese government has been researching the effects of shinrin-yoku. Various studies have found:
-diabetes patients experienced significant improvement in their condition
-increased immunological function
-lowered blood pressure
-increased brain function that effects creativity, problem-solving and decision making
-increase in cells that fight infections and cancers (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19585091)
No need to download an app. Shinrin-yoku only requires leaving behind all electronics and taking a stroll outdoors preferably in the woods. This is not trail-running or speed walking. Its simply taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors. (Outside Magazine, December 2012, “The Nature Cure,” p. 80)
While the results are well documented, scientists are still casting about for the reasons “forest-bathing” is so successful. Some studies site contact with soil bacteria and microbes as the source of the benefits, maybe it has to do with connecting with something bigger than ourselves. It reminds me of Jesus’ examples in his teachings. He often used nature to illustrate his points. For instance, we can catch a glimpse of God’s love for His creation when Jesus talks about sparrows. (Matthew Chap. 10 & Luke Chap. 12)He points out that God is concerned about the fate of a tiny sparrow and that in God’s eyes not only is no one insignificant - they are loved.
Every time I go for a walk in the woods or along the Chattahoochee river I am reminded that I am connected to the Creator, who is grander and greater than my own human intellect. I call them prayer walks because I walk until I let go of the agitations and aggravations that have been pestering me, and I open my thought to listening and seeing the beauty of creation. These strolls always leave me refreshed and invigorated. But I’ve discovered I can find this same sense of peace and love - and thus health benefits - anywhere as long as I am prepared to move my thinking toward love and the Creator. And best of all, no app required.