The effects of being in woodland go beyond reduction in blood pressure and heart rate. Trees emit phytoncides, antimicrobial volatile organic compounds that defend them from bacteria, insects and fungi. This immune system in the forest interacts with our own, stimulating the production of white blood cells that help keep us healthy.
Seeing the great health benefits of Shinrin-Yoku, Japanese researchers moved ahead to scientifically validate their findings. Portable instruments showed time in nature reduced blood pressure, heart rate and the stress hormone cortisol. They further measured the effect of the trees phytoncides to increase our white blood cell count and the increase in NK ‘killer’ cells that are our immune protection system. This makes time in woodland a perfect compliment to cancer healing methods and other diseases.
Research from all over the world has emerged showing that even a view of trees from a hospital window helped patients recover more quickly and easily, using less pain medication, after surgery than patients with windows looking out on a brick wall. Similarly, prisoners with a view of trees were happier and healthier than those whose view was concrete.
Children diagnosed with ADHD are calmer and more balanced after time in nature. Children who see views of trees out of their home windows are happier and healthier than those with an urban view. Even having a vase of roses in an office was found to make a measurable difference to well-being, calmness and peace of mind.
Depression and addiction arises from lack of connectedness. Being in nature gives that sense, helping to reduce depression and addictive tendencies in a healthy way, free from the side-effects of chemicals, and relatively inexpensive as a treatment. For countries such as Canada with national health care, a cost-benefit analysis could show enormous savings.
Clearly we need contact with the natural world!