While most health experts agree that walking is good for health, researchers from Japan have found that taking a walk in the woods has added benefits for all seeking overall well-being physically as well as for the soul.
From the physical exercise of walking to breathing in the various flora and oils that nature can provide, scientists have found that physical activity can be further enhanced when exercise is done outdoors rather than inside a gym.
According to a 20-year study conducted by researchers in Japan, breathing in Forest air allows people to take in beneficial bacteria, essential oils, and negatively-charged ions that enhance wellness. The Japanese even have a term for this well-being derived from being in nature: shinrin-yoku, which translates as "forest bathing."
"'Shinrin-yoku' is considered to be one of the most accessible ways to get in touch with the natural world and to lower excessive stress to levels that are commensurate with what our bodies are 'expected' to cope with," the researchers say.
The research has showed that forest bathing exposes humans and even animals such as pigs, to the essential oils, negative ions, and beneficial bacteria which help plants themselves stay healthy and fight off harmful microorganisms. Although these substances are present in the air humans breathe, they are particularly concentrated in the woods or by the ocean — which is why taking a stroll in nature is almost universally soothing and calming across all cultures.
Evidence shows that when these substances are breathed in, they interact with the internal gut-dwelling bacteria and flora in humans and help break down food which cannot be digested.
City-dwellers who are unable to take regular walks in the woods need not miss out on the benefits nature has to offer. Walking in parks, for example, can also expose people to more of these substances rather than running on an indoor treadmill.
More research needs to be conducted on exactly how these beneficial substances from nature aid in de-stressing and help physical and mental well-being. Although science is clear that immersing oneself with nature and avoiding the smog and pollution of cities can affect health positively.
Photo: Mike Kniec | Flickr