Yosemite National Park
Those who enjoy spending time outdoors away from built spaces, whether playing, hiking, birding, or fishing, have all personally experienced the rejuvenating effects of immersion in natural spaces. Increasingly, the physiological effects of nature on humans are being scientifically proven, as well. In its January 2016 edition, National Geographic Magazine featured an article titled “This is Your Brain on Nature.”
In England, researchers found that people living near more green space reported lower levels of mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment. In 2009, Dutch researchers found that people who live within about half a mile of green space experience lower incidences of diseases such as depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines. In 2015, an international team of researchers found that Toronto residents who lived on blocks with more trees showed the same boost in heart and metabolic health that someone would experience from a $20,000 increase in income. A Japanese researcher has shown that a walk of just 15 minutes in the woods causes changes in physiology. Study volunteers who walked in the forest showed a 16% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2% drop in blood pressure, and a 4% drop in heart rate.
These health benefits are becoming well established enough that immersion in nature is being incorporated into various health practices. The Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California is training pediatricians to write prescriptions for visits to nearby parks as part of a pilot project. In Finland, a professor of psychology has helped design “power trails” that encourage walking, mindfulness, and reflection. In South Korea, where the work culture is notoriously stressful, “health rangers” offer healing programs in forests. The South Korean government sponsors a three-day program in the Saneum Healing Forest for firefighters who have been diagnosed with PTSD.
For more information on the physiological benefits of nature, visit http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/call-to-wild-text.
The Association of Nature & Forest Therapy is offering an inaugural forest therapy study tour to Japan and Korea from June 20-July 1, 2016. Click here for more information.