The Japanese use the phrase, Shinrin-yoku. Translated literally, it means “forest bathing” which is the idea that spending time in nature is a healthy practice.
Glancing back over my past 12 months, my family and I did a good job embracing the natural world. While it’s something that we always enjoy, eight years ago during my cancer diagnosis, I first became aware that it’s a recommended strategy for healing and for coping with illness. As with many synchronicities, that first awareness triggered a plethora of reinforcing articles in my path.
Spending time in nature does indeed make us healthier. It lowers our stress which can be found at the root of many illnesses. That lowering of stress triggers a number of other benefits such as lower blood pressure, an increased feeling of vitality and boosts the growth of white blood cells. This, in turn, improves our physical health and also our mental health
Numerous studies explore the connection between time spent in nature and well-being. One study has proven the hypothesis that wilderness excursions cause increased feelings of happiness. Another study suggests that presence in nature increases energy and fights off exhaustion. It appears that there is more than one reason for this result. Naturally occurring substances called phytoncides are produced by plants to fend off the growth of bacteria and deter invasive insects. Exposed to phytoncides, these chemicals are scientifically proven to emit active substances which prevent them from rotting or being eaten by some insects and animals. In humans, the number of NK or natural killer cells increased significantly.
Similar research has shown that individuals consistently feel more energetic when they spend time outdoors in nature and it is replicated when they imagine themselves in similar settings. Hence, the notion of meditation and recreating an outdoors setting is of significant health value.
As a parent, I inhale this research! For children and young adults, outdoor play is seen to increase fitness levels, vitamin D and to lower the chance of nearsightedness. In addition, it may reduce ADHD symptoms, increase performance on standardized tests and optimize critical thinking skills. Finally, similar to adults, children’s stress levels diminish in a natural setting as do the chances for anxiety or depression. Fresh air and sunlight eliminate the incidents of seasonal affective disorder and the overall mood elevates.
The bottom line is that we become healthier, nicer people by taking opportunities to spend time in nature. Are there ways that we can foster this in the work environment? Can you take a walk with a colleague versus being holed up in a conference room? Is there a nearby park that might work for an occasional staff meeting? How about a team building session of kayaking or a day-hike?
Whether with a group or on your own, there’s ample evidence to suggest that we all benefit from being outdoors. Take a bath in the forest, find a mountain train or just get out of the building and into the outdoors!