The Beauty of Fresh Air for Health
My family has had a smaller summer place on the lower Saranac Lake for five generations. We still enjoy our time in the woods, treks on the peaks of the beautiful mountains of the Adirondacks and swimming in the cool lake water. I always look forward to getting out of the car when we first arrive and taking in a big breath of the pine-scented Adirondack fresh air.
If you look back in your own childhood, I am sure you have memories of getting outside - going out on the first snow day, wearing short sleeves on the first warm spring day, swimming outside in the summer, walking in the crisp fall air. We know the pleasure and calm these moments brings. But for some reason, it feels so hard to make time to disconnect from technology and connect with nature.
Japanese Forest Bathing
Taking a break and getting a big breath of fresh air and feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin can have so many health benefits. In fact, there’s a name for it, It’s known as Shinrin-yoku. Developed in the early 1980s by Japanese researchers, Shinrin-yoku means “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere” and it has become a fundamental part of healing many conditions, as well as preventive medicine. It’s easy to see the benefits of spending time outdoors, amongst the living forest or a walk in a park, connecting with the outdoors.
What you may not know is that exposure to sunlight and fresh air offers your body health benefits that can last a lifetime. There is much scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time and research on forest bathing can be found on NatureAndForestTherapy.org.
Forest bathing stimulates an increase in the parasympathetic nervous system activity which prompts rest, conserves energy, and slows down the heart rate while increasing intestinal and gland activity improving digestion. The reduced adrenal activity lowers cortisol and other stress hormones calming the body’s stress-response system. This reduction in the stress hormones, boosts our immune defenses; in particular, the activities of frontline defenders, such as antiviral natural killer cells, are suppressed by stress hormones. Since forest bathing can lower stress hormone production and elevate mood states, it’s not surprising that it also influences markers of immune system strength.
The Science Behind Forest Bathing
Harvard Health Publishing reports on some of the health benefits of going outdoors:
- Vitamin D levels increase from sunshine, which may help protect the body from “osteoporosis to cancer to depression to heart attacks and stroke.”
- Increases your level of exercise, especially for children
- Exercising in nature (called “green exercise”) helps improved mental health - with some studies showing that “just five minutes of green exercise resulted in improvements in self-esteem and mood.”
Three Quick Tips
Use technology to your benefit. It’s hard to carve out time for nature, but it can be planned. Take a look at your calendar, and make some time for daily, weekly, and monthly time in nature. Add them to your calendar so you are sure that all of the other tasks of life don’t take over!
- Daily: take a 10-minute walk. Take 10 minutes at a lunch break or before or after work, to walk outside. It can be as simple as setting your phone timer for 5 minutes and walk in one direction, when the timer goes off, turn around.
- Weekly: make time for a 1-hour walk outdoors, with your smartphone off (or on airplane mode) so that you can be undistracted. Try alone or with friends or family.
- Monthly: plan a half-day or full-day hike. Get to know the outdoors around you. You can plan a trip that’s a short drive away. Wake up early, pack a lunch, and take you and your loved ones to explore the nature nearby.