Doctor Nature

The Japanese practice shirin-yoku, which translates into ” forest bathing”. A form of preventative medicine, 48 official “forest therapy” trails are managed by Japan’s Forest Agency. Within the next 10 years the goal is to increase that number to 100. It’s no secret that Japanese culture reveres nature; they just might be on to something.

Ponder this – In 2008 the world crossed a line; more people lived in urban environments than rural settings. Research indicates mankind has become more aggressive, self absorbed, depressed, distracted, fatter, and less able to rely on their cognitive abilities since the introduction of the internet. On average Americans are estimated to spend at least 8 hours a day looking at electronic screens.

Back to forest therapy; research shows that mother nature has some tricks up her sleeve. A group of Tokyo businessmen spent 3 days hiking in the woods. Blood tests showed their NK (white blood cell count, – important immune system and cancer fighters) was up by 40%, and after a month was still increased by 15%. The same group  tested after urban walks showed no increase in NK count. Even one day immersed in nature increased short term memory, dropped blood pressure, and led to an increased feeling of “well being”. Nay sayers can argue these benefits resulted from nothing more than simple stress release – fair enough, but explain the NK count.

Qing Li of the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo attributes it to phytoncides (scents) released by trees, in particular pines. Evergreens and other trees give off pinenes, limonenes, in total up to 100 “enes” to play with our minds. Science can’t explain it; at least not in any terms other than understanding that they stimulate our brains.

We can’t explain why Lemmings jump to their death, Sand Tiger sharks only give birth to 2 offspring because the bad ass couple ate the other embryos while still in the womb, or raccoons mate for life – and it doesn’t matter. Nature knows how to keep a delicate balance. People aren’t supposed to live without nature; sequestered in cities,  medicating themselves in desperate attempts to “feel better”.

Click on the link, read the story, then get off your city chair and smell a pine tree.

Photo: Michael Turek/Getty Images