Why a walk in the woods really does help your body and your soul


Jeffrey Craig, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Susan L. Prescott, University of Western Australia

Have you ever wondered why you feel healthier and happier when you stroll through the trees or frolic by the sea? Is it just that you’re spending time away from work, de-stressing and taking in the view? Or is there more to it?

For more than 20 years, scientists have been trying to determine the mechanisms by which exposure to biodiversity improves health. Japanese scientists pioneered the search when they travelled to the island of Yakushima, famous for its biodiversity.

The Japanese already had a name for the experience of well-being in nature: shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”.

Bathe yourself in the forests of Japan’s Yakushima island.
Alan Logan, Author provided

We do know that a diverse ecosystem supports a varied and beneficial microbial community living around and inside us.

We also know that exposure to green space, even within urban environments, increases our physical and mental well-being. But what are the mechanisms?

The forest air

The Japanese researchers suggested that we are taking in beneficial substances when we breathe forest air.

Research has identified three major inhaled factors that can make us feel healthier. These factors are beneficial bacteria, plant-derived essential oils and negatively-charged ions.

From birth to the grave, beneficial bacteria surround us; they live in the environment and, importantly, in the air we breathe. We also share almost our entire body with them. The more interaction we have with them, the happier and healthier we are.

This is in part due to our gut-dwelling bacteria, which break down the food we cannot digest and produce substances that benefit us both physically and mentally.

Plants and the bacteria living on them can produce essential oils to fight off harmful microorganisms. These are referred to collectively as phytoncides, literally, “plant-derived exterminators”.

Research on the health benefits of plant essential oils is in its infancy. But one recent study found that a phytoncide from Korean pine trees improved the health and bacterial make-up of pigs.

Notwithstanding some of the pseudoscience that gets wrapped around negative ion generating machines, there is evidence that negative air ions may influence mental outlook in beneficial ways. There are relatively higher levels of negative air ions in forested areas and close to bodies of water. This may factor into the benefits of walking in a forest or near the ocean.

But as the German writer Goethe once said:

Nature has neither kernel nor shell; she is everything at once.

Bacteria, essential oils and negative ions interact and influence each other. For example, negative ions and phytoncides may dictate the microbial make-up within a natural environment. There is evidence that this could also be taking place in the human gut.

More to be done

Nature-relatedness, or biophilia in which an individual feels connected to nature, has been linked with better health.

But we have a long way to go before we can more fully understand the mechanisms by which an innate love of nature can benefit our health. An important part of this discussion – an overlooked one in our opinion – is further understanding of an individual’s connection to nature.

Psychologists have convincingly demonstrated connections between nature relatedness and mental well-being. But how does a greater personal affinity to nature interact with dietary habits, personal microbiome, physical activity levels and many other lifestyle variables that might be intertwined with having such an affinity?

In the meantime, while scientists turn over stones and search for important mechanistic clues – including those related to biodiversity – there are many simple ways to capitalise on our biophilia.

Live in a city? The take time to walk in the city’s parks and gardens such as Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens.
Flickr/Stephen Barber, CC BY-NC-ND

Why not run in the park or by a river instead of on a treadmill, or take a walk through a park on the way to work or at lunchtime?

Critically, there is increasing evidence that we can help shape our children’s mental and physical health by exposing them to more green environments as they work, rest and play. The US-based Children and Nature Network is a great resource of research news and activities bringing children and nature together.

In the World Health Organization report Connecting Global Priorities – Biodiversity and Human Health, released in December last year, it was concluded that:

Considering ‘microbial diversity’ as an ecosystem service provider may contribute to bridging the chasm between ecology and medicine/immunology [… ] the relationships our individual bodies have with our microbiomes are a microcosm for the vital relationships our species shares with countless other organisms with which we share the planet.

It is easy to see that discussions of natural environments and human health are no mere matter of intellectual fancy.

In a paper published last month in Journal of Physiological Anthropology, we’ve called for more research into the links between biodiversity and human physical and mental well-being, particular in relation to childhood, that most formative of times.

Wouldn’t it be good if by nurturing our environment we were also nurturing our children’s future health?

The Conversation

Jeffrey Craig, Principal Research Fellow, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Susan L. Prescott, Professor of Paediatrics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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10 Tips for Unpacking your Gear


Girly Camping®

10 tips for unpacking your gear

10 Tips for unpacking your gear and making the last bit of your trip less painful

You’ve had the best trip of your life! You saw unbelievable sights, cooked amazing meals, and made unforgettable memories. You’ve packed up your gear, drove the long trek home, and as exhausted as you are from your trip, you have one more task: to unpack your gear. But it doesn’t have to painful. It can actually be quick and organized! Here are 10 tips for unpacking your gear:

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Healthy Park Walks at Tarra-Bulga National Park


Friends of Tarra-Bulga National Park

A FREE guided walk among lush green ferns, giant mountain ash and myrtle beech. Enjoy the fresh air of this beautiful park.

Times are below:

Wednesday 26 August – Corrigan Suspension Bridge Circuit
Meet at Visitor Centre (60 min walk)

Monday 28 September – Tarra Valley Rainforest Walk
Meet at Tarra Valley carpark (30 min walk)

Thursday 22 October – Corrigan Suspension Bridge Circuit
Meet at Visitor Centre (60 min walk)

Monday 16 November – Tarra Valley Rainforest Walk
Meet at Tarra Valley carpark (30 min walk)

Wednesday 9 December – Corrigan Suspension Bridge Circuit
Meet at Visitor Centre (60 min walk)

Meet at 10am

BYO: Morning tea suitable for a picnic

To register or for program updates go to www.heartfoundation.org.au/greenwalks or call 1300 362 787.

For enquiries, please contact Nikki or Stacey, Local Coordinators Heart Foundation Walking on 1800 242 696.

Park Walks Flyer pdf

Start of the Fern Gully Loop Track and the Scenic Track. Start of the Fern Gully Loop Track…

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Is It Really Safe to Go Trekking in Nepal Again?


TIME

Nepal’s Himalayan tour operators are criticizing a new government-sanctioned report that declared one of the country’s most popular trekking circuits safe for tourists after massive earthquakes ravaged the country in late April.

They say the study was hastily conducted, without enough fieldwork to back up the findings.

The report, funded by the U.K. and conducted by structural-engineering company Miyamoto, found that the Annapurna circuit was not as badly damaged as initially feared, the BBC says.

The government welcomed the report’s conclusions that very few trails in the area needed repairs after quakes on April 26 and May 12 killed more than 9,000 people across the tiny mountain nation.

Several companies and associations that facilitate trekking expeditions across the Himalayan mountains surrounding Nepal, however, are less enthusiastic. Most say they were not consulted for their input, despite their intimate familiarity with and practical knowledge of the region.

“Such assessments need to…

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Long Distance Hiking/Bushwalking


The links below are to a number of articles that take a look at long distance hiking/bushwalking, including a number of walks in the USA and the United Kingdom.

For more visit:
http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/apr/17/pacific-coast-trail-long-distance-hiking-men-women
http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/jan/19/top-10-long-distance-hiking-trails-us-california-oregon-texas
http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/nov/06/walking-guides-uk-long-distance-footpaths-grand-union-canal
http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2012/may/13/exmoor-somerset-walk
http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2012/may/13/lake-district-cumbria-walk