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Harmonizing with the Forest

Shakespeare understood the benefits of a walk in the woods. "...I'll walk to still my beating mind." Prospero in The Tempest. Now there's a lot of research behind it.

I have loved the forest my whole life. Just a walk in the woods can always lift my mood, calm me, and generally make me feel like the world is a beautiful place. I like to walk or run in the woods during every season. I love to watch the subtle, and not-so-subtle changes: the level of the streams, the difference in birdsong, the leaves turning and dropping. When the soil starts to thaw, you can feel the energy of the forest just holding back the explosion of new life about to pop open.

It's also the best place for a good talk. Walking along in a forest gives you something to do other than stare at each other, and there is such calm that even anger and frustration seems to soften. My kids always seemed to talk more during a walk in the woods.

You have probably had the experience of feeling great after a walk in the woods. But did you know there are scientific reasons for that?

Even a small amount of time in a forest (20 minutes) can reap both physical as well as psychological health benefits. We all instinctively feel that a walk in the woods lowers our blood pressure. We aren’t even surprised to learn that it lowers stress hormone levels (cortisol and adrenaline).

Even a small amount of time in a forest can reap both physical as well as psychological health benefits.

But did you know that the forest is literally an anti-bacterial?

Very fresh (just made) air contains all sorts of natural chemicals called phytoncides, that give plants protection from insects, bacteria, and fungus, and in humans, boost our super-hero white blood cells.

There are many current research studies looking at just how important forest bathing may be to human health. Meanwhile, according to the EPA, the average American spends more than 93 percent of his or her time indoors.

In Japan, shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is being thoroughly researched, and is commonly understood. Miyazaki Yoshifumi has been researching the health benefits of the forest for more than 30 years. According to Dr. Yoshifumi, shinrin-yoku is relaxing by "synchronizing or harmonizing with the forest."

He feels that forest bathing is more important than ever, because unlike our ancestors, we live more disconnected from nature than any other generation. We are seeing more stress and more illness, he believes, in part due to this disconnection.

The average American spends 93 percent of his/her time indoors.

In Japan, shinrin-yoku is done for two hours at a time. But benefits from bathing in the forest can be accessed by just 20 minutes of sitting, walking, running–or anything else you feel like doing–in the forest. So head out to a forest and destress.

Reference: Science of Natural Therapy, by Yoshifumi Miyazaki , Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences. Chiba University. July 2021.

How do you feel after a walk in the woods? Please comment below.

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1 Comment

Heather Beyerle
Heather Beyerle
Jun 05, 2022

There is a reason I live with the forest in my backyard. A walk in the woods is so grounding.

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