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Improving your health through forest bathing

Garden Club of Cape Coral

July 25, 2014
By JOYCE COMINGORE ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

On our way to the Farmer's Market, I was telling my oldest daughter that I knew what I would write about this week - forest bathing. She looked at me and said, "Do I need to bring my washcloth, towel and soap?" You can't blame her for that one.

I was going to the Native Plant Society's page to find information on the Saturday Coccoloba Chapters Native Plant Sale, July 26, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., in Rotary Park Cape Coral, along with the Lee County Extension and the Florida Yards and Neighborhood's Rain Barrel Sessions. Vendors will have hard-to-find choice, beautiful native plants, plus lots of growing information will be obtainable.

The Coccoloba Chapter FNPS meets on the second Thursday of each month between September and April - 6:30 p.m. social, 7 p.m. meeting, at the Calusa Nature Center. It's vacation time right now, but they have interesting blogs on their home page and I found that last Sunday, July 14, in conjunction with Conservation 20/20, they had a field trip/scavenger hunt through Wild Turkey Strand Preserve. Two statements caught my eye - "How Wild Turkey Can Save Your Gall Bladder," and the "Importance of Forest Bathing on Humans." Those two statements piqued my interest.

It seems, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in 1984, published a paper describing gall bladder surgery patients, randomly selected, being put into either a room facing a brick wall or one looking out at trees. Nature viewers had shorter postoperative stays, complained less, needed fewer drugs and had less post-op complications. I was impressed by the fact that they only saw trees through a window. It boosted the immune system. Therefore, walking the Wild Turkey Strand Preserve was really very good for your gall bladder.

Some very interesting evidence of the health benefits started coming out of Japan a while back. Japan's Forest Agency in 1982 proposed that when humans breathe the volatiles chemical (phytoncides, wood essential oils) released from trees and plants in nature, which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds emitted to protect the trees from rotting and insects, it made walking through the woods very healthy. Emitting a fine mist of health-giving "wood essential oils," trees can revive us. Shinrin-yoku shinrin, meaning forest, and yoku, means bathing, showering or basking in" in Japanese - became the name of their new therapy. They found it decreases stress levels, lowered anxiety, depression, fatigue, feelings of emotional confusion and anger. Forest bathing has become a recognized stress and relaxation management activity in Japan; where they now are finding it increases the immune system that fights cancer.

"It is not so much for its beauty that a forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit."

- Robert Louis Stevenson.

It's not just long walks in the fresh air; it takes trees to provide us with well-being. Walking down a busy street doesn't cut it. You need the natural airborne chemicals emitted by the trees. They found a two-hour forest walk has been proven to increase our natural white blood cells', our killer cells, activity. The authors of "Your Brain on Nature" discuss the research linking forest bathing and increased cerebral blood flow, immune defense and improved mental health. Using a cell phone or Ipad on these walks doesn't help either. Become a part of the experience. Leave the stress thinking and civilization behind.

Feel bad? Take a hike.

One article I saw said, "Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning." It told of many experiments conducted. The thought that intrigued me was, do just scent aromas have any effect? That little green cardboard tree hanging from the rear view mirror, no exercise involved, but can it help us live longer? Research goes on.

Many nations besides Japan have now taken this theory seriously. Like Japan, they have set up studies of forest medicine. Dr Qing Li, considered one of the world's foremost experts on shinrin-yoku, is associate professor in the Department of Hygiene and Public Health at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo. He also serves as president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine and is involved in the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine. He suggests one "enjoy the forest through the five senses: the murmuring of a stream, bird's singing, green color, fragrances of the forest, eat some foods from the forest and just touch the trees." I do believe he is encouraging tree hugging. His tips for forest bathing are: Make a plan based on your ability and do not get tired; if you want a whole day, 4 hours of walking is enough, if half a day, do 2 hours; if you feel tired, rest anytime and anyplace you like; the same for thirsty, drink water or tea any time you like; find a place in the forest you like, sit for awhile, read or enjoy the scenery; if possible, take a hot spring bath (spa) after forest bathing; a 3-day /2-night trip would be recommended to boost your immunity; to relax and reduce your stress, a day trip to a near-by forest park near your home; forest bathing is just a preventive measure for diseases, therefore, if you come down with an illness, see a doctor not a forest.

The Coccoloba Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society is leading another "forest bathing" trip Sunday, Aug. 17, at 9 a.m., Hickey's Creek Mitigation Park, 17980 Palm Beach Blvd., in Alva. You can register for this free trip at

Being a tree lover, as many of you know, guess what a forest is - lots of those trees I love. My kind of heaven.

Someone once asked, "When is the best time to plant a tree?"

Answer, "Twenty years ago.

Second-best time? Today."

And be sure to thank it.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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