Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

You know baths are good for you… but have you tried forest bathing?

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“You didn’t come into this world.
You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.
You are not a stranger here.”
Alan Watts

Summer is a perfect time to immerse yourself in nature. A walk outdoors anywhere, but especially in the woods, may confer additional benefits. “Shinrin-yoku”, or forest bathing, has been shown to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and strengthen our immune systems.

One may wonder if relaxing in a bar, on one’s porch or in a lounge chair anywhere may offer the same benefits. Possibly, but…. Japanese scientists have been researching Shinrin- yoku since the 1980s, and have found that spending a minimum of 20 minutes in the woods has a notable effect on our physiology. Specific benefits were found to be the following:

  • Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood
  • Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved sleep

What accounts for these additional changes to our physical wellbeing?

Forest bathing has a major effect on our parasympathetic nervous system, which controls stress, ability to conserve energy,  relax, and slows down our heart rate, while stimulating glandular activity.  In a study out of Nippon Medical School in Tokyo in 2006, Dr. Qing Li and other researchers discovered that there are natural chemicals secreted by evergreen trees, collectively known as phytoncides. These essential oils increase the activity of our frontline immune defenders, known as killer cells, which promote healing.  This has lead to research correlating forest bathing with an increase in the activity and presence of intra-cellular cancer-fighting proteins. To learn about the myriad of research studies on Shinrin-yoku, see http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/the-science.html

Being in the moment, without thinking of what you have to do next, what you should have done already, or how much more productive you could be, is essential to give your mind a rest.  Mystics throughout the ages have known that meditating, being still, listening without speaking, and walking and absorbing nature through all our senses promotes a sense of calm and has healing properties.

Fortunately, we live in an area with many opportunities to be at one with nature. There are walking trails from easy to challenging, all within an hour’s drive of Boston. Here are some places to get you started on your walk through the woods:

https://www.boston.com/culture/travel/2015/07/02/15-places-to-hike-within-an-hour-of-boston

Try World’s End in Hingham, Blue Hills reservation which offers 125 miles of trails and scenic views from the top, Mount Misery in Lincoln (nothing like its name), Noanet Woods in Dover, and Medford’s Middlesex Fells Reservation which are all no more than half an hour to 45 minutes away. If you’re pressed for time, try a walk around Lake Waban at Wellesley College, Cold Springs Park in Newton, or the Weston Reservoir- all within 15 minutes of here.

Ready, set, bath time !

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