A walk in the woods: A boost for your immune system
Exercising is healthy. It’s no hot news and we all know it. Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara calls walking ‘the biggest problem solver around’. He regards it as the best preventive treatment for physical and mental ailments, it makes us both physically and mentally healthier. Just like running, walking releases endorphins – the feel-good chemical – in our bodies. This makes us more resistant to depression.
Walking in the woods takes this one step forward. The forest climate is characterised by a number of special features: the crowns of the trees block the sun’s rays and the trees evaporate water. This results in cooler temperatures and higher humidity. Trees also produce a lot of oxygen and an interesting substance: phytoncide.
Phytoncide is a substance that prevents rotting and fungal growth. In this way the forest protects itself and the trees remain healthy. By breathing in the phytoncides that the trees release into the air, our immune system is also strengthened. A component of phytoncides are terpenes, which promote the production of NK cells (natural killer cells). These are an important part of our immune system: NK cells are able to scan other cells for irregularities. They recognise when a cell is infected by a virus and kill the cell in question.
Studies have also shown that staying in the forest reduces anxiety, depression and anger. The amount of stress hormones of forest hikers is lower and vitality is improved.
In Japan, forest walks have long been a recognized stress management method and are promoted by the Japanese health care system. They call it ‘Shinrin Yoku’ which means as much as ‘taking a bath in the atmosphere of the forest’.
Tips for your forest bath:
You can bathe in any forest, even the smallest. Forest bathing is about opening the senses.
During the walk, take some time to slow down and move without time pressure. Take a break if you feel like it and absorb the atmosphere of the forest. Feel the gentle breeze on your skin, listen to the birds, feel the rough bark of a tree or smell the fragrant of pine needles.
You can do a walking meditation while you’re in the forest: observe consciously every movement of your body. Do this as slowly as possible.
Just follow your intuition and do what is right for you at the moment. Isn’t that a wonderful way to support your health!