Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Restorative Powers of Forest Bathing

Trails Committee chairperson Bill Dyer penned this interesting article on the health benefits of forest bathing, a Japanese practice that combines nature walks and mindfulness. Explore some of Shelton’s many acres of open space and give it a try!

Shelton Trails Network is a fine place to practice Forest Bathing – a retreat to nature that can boost your immune system and mood. You do not need a bathing suit and you do not get in water. The aim of forest bathing is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment. It differs from a hike in that you meander along forest trails with no particular destination in mind. All the senses are used: smells, textures, tastes, sounds and sights of the forest.

The practice began in Japan in the early 1990s when the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-yoku, which translates roughly as forest bathing. Medical researchers in Japan have found that the forest environment led to a significant reduction in blood pressure and certain stress hormones, while improving energy level, mood and sleep quality.

It is not a surprise that researchers were able to document a decrease in blood pressure compared to a similar length city walk. As people begin to relax, parasympathetic nerve activity increases, which lead to a drop in blood pressure.

Another factor researchers have found is that the release by trees of compounds, known as phytoncides, reduce concentrations of stress hormones and enhance the activity of white blood cells that protect the body against infectious diseases. There is no question that stress takes a terrible toll in the United States – a 2015 study found work-related stress accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs.

Go for a walk on the many Shelton trails that pass through the woods; walk slowly; breathe deeply; open all your senses. This is the healing way of Shinrin-yoku forest therapy, the medicine of simply being in the forest.

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