Six hours of bushwalking has a powerful immune boosting effect according to Japanese research. They actually found that communing with nature, increased cancer fighting natural killer cells. They also found that bushwalking is a natural stress reliever, helping alleviate depression and anxiety as well as decreasing blood pressure.
The leading researcher, Yoshifumi Miyazaki, found that the stress hormone cortisol was 13.4% lower in those who gazed on forest scenery for 20 minutes than in people who stayed in the city. Maybe the scenery on the computer screen doesn’t count!
Another study, in which people spent two nights at a hotel in the country and went bushwalking for three leisurely strolls while they were there, showed that the cancer-fighting part of their immune system increased.
The author of the study, Li Qing of Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School, also noted that the increase could still be observed 30 days later.
The old fashioned advice of “get some fresh air” turns out to be good advice. It’s a combination of the smell of the trees, listening to the birds, and the feel of sunshine through the leaves. They all have a calming effect, says Miyazaki. After all, he points out, humans lived in nature for several million years. “We were made to fit a natural environment, so we feel stress in an urban area.” Miyazaki believes that ”when we are exposed to nature, our bodies go back to the way they should be.”
The research has been called Forest Therapy and is being embraced by governments and citizens alike. In 2006, a government-affiliated organization began designating certain forests ‘Forest Therapy bases.’
Forest Therapy bases are maintained by local governments. At some of them, visitors can take a guided walk with experts on forests and health care. At one base, medical checkups among the cypress trees are offered to visitors for free every Thursday. And some companies are even including forest therapy in their employee health care programs. Li Qing believes that in a few years, a forest therapy program will be developed to help patients whose immune systems have been compromised.
It seems obvious that bushwalking promotes well-being, but it’s also great that research is being done on such a free-of-side-effects therapy. With concrete evidence of bushwalking having an immune boosting effect, the enormous value of our forests may be appreciated by more people.