The Wonder of a Walk in the Woods
Poet Robert Frost captured the calm, still of the forest in his poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which allowed a moment of reflection in woods “lovely, dark, and deep.” In yet another poem, “The Road Not Taken,” Frost describes a traveler pondering two roads that “diverged in a wood,” then selecting the “one less traveled by.” Even in reading his poems, the image of the quiet woods encourages a reflective solitude all too scarce in today’s connected world. Decades later, research shows Frost was on to something; some doctors have started prescribing time in nature, recognizing the health benefits, including those to cancer survivors.
Frost essentially described the decades-old Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which means “taking in the forest.” Purists recommend two hours, alone or with a trained guide, walking slowly and noticing all that nature offers — the touch of tree bark, the rustle of leaves, but one study showed that even a view of nature helped surgical recovery.
Scientists aren’t sure why “forest bathing” or “forest therapy” conveys health benefits. In May 2020, both Harvard Health and Cleveland Clinic have discussed studies exploring health benefits of forest therapy[4,5].
A walk in the forest has been shown to decrease levels of the hormone cortisol, which, in chronic elevations, can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and headaches.
Another study showed a positive impact on a protein that regulates blood sugar.
Others credit natural tree oils, known to have antimicrobial properties that may promote immunity
Not surprisingly, research has established a relationship between quality of sleep and cancer survival, particularly for those with breast or colorectal cancer. Given that relationship, a July 2019 study explored whether forest therapy could help cancer patients by improving their sleep quality. Nine patients with gastrointestinal cancer completed a forest therapy program. The results showed an improvement in sleep efficiency. Another small study found positive effects of forest therapy in breast cancer patients.
The UK is all in. The National Trust has tips and links to guides. Forestry England not only has tips, but its website features videos for those confined to home. Park Rx America rates parks on this side of the pond to encourage healthcare providers to prescribe nature time to prevent and treat chronic disease. Walk with a Doc hosts both virtual and online walks with physicians around the United States. These resources make it easy to experiment with forest therapy, even during a pandemic.
Do something for your physical and mental health. Log on to a virtual walk or open your door and head out. Allow yourself a respite from all that is troubling our world and let nature work its magic on your physical and mental health.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935118303323, Sec. 5 Conclusions
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6678486/, Sec. 5 Conclusions