Exposure to forests boosts our immune system. In nature, we breathe in phytoncides, airborne chemicals released by plants to protect themselves from harmful diseases, germs and insects. Phytoncides have antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal qualities. These volatile organic compounds work by preventing the growth of attacking organisms. Breathing in phytoncides increases the number and activity of a white blood cell type known as natural killer cells. NK cells are reported to kill tumor and virus infected cells in our bodies.
Spending time around trees and looking at trees reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, helps control blood sugar, and improves the mood. Studies show it also reduces the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Researchers found that forest bathing trips significantly decrease anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and fatigue. And because stress inhibits the immune system, the health benefits of walking in forests are further magnified.
Spending time in nature helps us focus. It gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, allowing us to restore our thinking and regain better perspective.
Researchers believe that the essential oils released by trees are partly accountable for the positive, therapeutic effects of forest therapy on our health. Regular forest walks can be an important lifestyle factor in the prevention of cancer and helpful adjunctive therapy for those diagnosed with illness.
Photo by Genvièv ~ Research by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation