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The Forest You Breathe: Reconnecting With Nature For Improved Mental Health

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A walk through the woods could be the perfect way to improve your state of mind, as scientists connect the particles in the forest air to positive physiological well-being in humans.

Being in forests has long been recognised for lightening an individual’s mood and alleviating symptoms of stress in patients. Shinrin–Yoku meaning to ‘forest-bathe’ or ‘take in the atmosphere of the forest’, was the term coined in the 1980s by Japan’s Forest Agency. Currently, it is being applied as a therapy in many parts of Japan and has even been prescribed in Scotland as part of treatment programmes to cure chronic illness.

In Japan alone, over 4 million dollars was invested into discover the science behind the story. A wealth of knowledge has been revealed to finally prove the physiological benefits of being in a forested environment: heart rate and blood pressure decrease; reduction in cortisol levels (a hormone released in times of stress); improved sleep; heightened abilities to focus. The benefits all contribute to a better functioning immune system. So…What is this magical medicine?

They say that to ‘bathe’ in the forest is not only to witness the aesthetics but to inhale the benefits too. Trees release Phytoncide (an essential oils) to protect themselves against insects and germs. Scientific research suggests, that when we breathe in these organic compounds over a short period of time, an increase of Natural Killer (NK) cells is observed. NK are classified as Lymphocytes, and are what your body releases to ensure a rapid response to virally infected cells. They are also known for detecting and controlling early signs of cancer. The studies have confirmed that following a Shinrin-Yoku session, NK cell activity increases for a week or more (some studies show up to a month).

Living in North Wales, we are lucky enough to be in place that hosts some of the UK’s most renowned areas of natural beauty. Coed Y Brenin, Gwydir, Maes-y-Pant and Nercwys are just 5 of the forests you can go to for a bit of healing from Mother Nature. So there is absolutely no reason to stress: grab your coat and walking boots to create and experience your very own ‘Shinrin-Yoku’.

 

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Anna Ray

Environment Editor 2018-19

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