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Bluebell wood

Why It's Important

We know that currently in the UK, mental ill health is an issue that affects many children and adults; latest estimates state that 1 in 6 adults regularly experience a ‘common mental disorder’ such as depression or anxiety, and 1 in 6 children aged between 6 and 16 experienced a ‘common mental disorder’ in 2021.

In 2020, the leading cause of death for people aged 5-34 was ‘intentional self-harm’. Growing urbanisation, social and academic pressures, screen based entertainment and distraction are making us and our children unwell. Consistent access to screen and social media is becoming common in children as young as 10, and the research is telling us from all angles that these pressures are causing ever increasing levels of ill health with greater disconnection from nature and wild spaces than ever before in history.

 

Spending time connecting with nature is a potent antidote to the pressures of the modern world, proven to deliver lasting benefits to our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Originating in Japan, forest therapy or forest bathing is a mainstay of Japanese preventative health care. It draws on thousands of years of intuitive knowledge that tells us that we are part of nature, and we have a deep need to feel that connection. The term shinrin yoku was coined by professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University in Japan, who has been researching and reporting on the profound mental and physical health benefits of Forest Bathing since 2004, amongst countless other government and independent research programmes worldwide.

 

A growing body of research in the area of nature connection suggests that real and long-term benefits include reduced stress, improved immunity, lower blood pressure and accelerated recovery from illness or trauma.​ Academics the world over have also long been providing research which concludes that connecting to nature can be linked to happiness and mental wellbeing.

Natural spiral
Spending meaningful time in nature...

 

✧ Increases levels of creativity ✧

In one study by David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, participants saw a 50% improvement in creative problem solving after three days immersed in nature with all access to modern technology removed.​

 

✧ Boosts the immune system ✧

Further proven in Dr Qing Li's studies, trees and plants in the forest emit biochemicals called ‘phytoncides’ (think of them as woodland essential oils), which we breathe in when we spend time in the forest. These have been proven to enhance the activity of natural killer cells that help our bodies to fight disease. Li showed that Forest Bathing increases the NK, or Natural Killer cell activity in people, with at least some of this effect coming from phytoncides. The effects were seen to last for about 30 days and, as these NK cells help to fight disease, the study concludes that regular Forest Bathing trips may have a preventative effect on the development of degenerative diseases.

✧ Reduces high blood pressure ✧

Forest Bathing has been proven to reduce blood pressure, a crucial factor in maintaining a healthy heart. A recent meta study in Japan reviewed 20 trials, involving 732 participants, which demonstrated that blood pressure levels in the forest environment were significantly lower than those in the non-forest environment.

 

✧ Accelerates recovery from illness ✧

Nature can be a powerful catalyst in the recovery process. Some of the earliest research, that has since been built upon by a large and growing community of researchers was famously conducted by Dr Roger Ulrich, an architect specialising in healthcare building design, in 1984. Ulrich introduced us to the idea that even a natural view from a window compared to an urban view can significantly reduce convalescence time after an operation. Dr. Ulrich's study has paved the way for many innovations in physical health, such as hospital gardens, and the powerful impact of nature upon recovering patients is now widely accepted.

 

Recommended further reading:
RSPB Every Child Outdoors​

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