The Woods are Good for You
You know the sensation. You step into the shady woods, or dip your toes into a cool stream and suddenly all of life’s troubles melt away. You feel calm, and relaxed, and that backlog of email and text messages on your phone doesn’t seem so urgent after all.
Scientific studies are now showing what people have long understood intuitively: nature heals. Time spent in so-called “green spaces” has been shown to benefit both adults and children with ADHD, obesity, stress, Alzheimer's, dementia and PTSD.
Modern doctors have begun to write nature prescriptions for patients. Modern scientists are studying the effects of ecotherapy on the biomarkers of humans.
This seems important in an age where adults spend 87% of their time indoors, and another 7% in vehicles, according to one recent EPA study.
In the era of smartphones and constant distraction it seems we need nature now more than ever.
FOREST BATHING & PHYTONCIDES
Japanese researchers have been at the forefront of studying the health benefits of nature. As early as the 1980s they coined the term “Shinrinyoku” or “forest bathing.”
These researchers have also discovered that people who lived near forests had lower rates of lung, breast, uterine, prostate, kidney, and colon cancers. Since forests cover 67% of the land in Japan, “forest bathing” is easily accessible for Japanese people. The practice has become an accepted and commonplace form of therapy.
Japanese scientists are now studying the health benefits of phytoncides. Phytoncides are a lot of what comprise the dampy, earthy “forest smell” you experience when you walk into the woods. They are natural compounds released by trees, substances that naturally defend the plants from bacteria, insects, and fungi. There are 5,000 types of phytoncides and they’re now being shown to be beneficial to humans when inhaled through the lungs.
Forest exposure has also been shown to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve mood, and increase your ability to focus.
FOREST BATHING & HIKES IN SEATTLE NORTHCOUNTRY
Forest bathing is catching on stateside, too. Seattle NorthCountry, long a destination for hiking and outdoor recreation, is home to natural hot springs.
Gamma Hot Springs are for the gung-ho, advanced hiker with a good working knowledge of GPS. This hot springs is deep in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, off the grid and miles from the Mountain Loop Highway. The water here is 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Best to go late in the summer or fall when the streams are low.
Easily accessible by comparison, is the Scenic Hot Springs, a private bathing spot located off of Highway 2. It’s a short hike there, and it can be reserved online.
If you’re looking for simple forest exposure, Seattle NorthCountry is the place. Forested regions are easy enough to find and hikes are as simple as driving toward the mountains.
Maybe losing yourself here is one of the best things you can do. Go hiking for your health— lungfuls of phytoncides await you.