Ammonite Falls is one of thousands of park trails in the Nanaimo area. (News Bulletin file)

Active Life: Forest provides immune benefits

Nanaimo offers more than 1,400 hectares of greenspace

  • Apr. 11, 2017 10:30 a.m.

By Tammy Toor

One of the things I love most about the Nanaimo area is the amount of green space available within close proximity. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon an article titled “Forest Bathing – the Latest Fitness Trend.” Those few words alone were enough for me to read the whole thing.

According to the article, forest bathing is based on the Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku that translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing” which encourages people to soak up the sights, smells and sounds of a natural setting to promote physical and psychological health.

In 2001, a study was conducted in the U.S. which found that, on average, people spend 87 percent of their time indoors and, in many cases, six percent in an enclosed vehicle. Those statistics shouldn’t have surprised me, but they did. I love being in the forest or park surrounded by nature and being disconnected from the latest news, e-mails and programs on TV.

The practice of forest bathing is said to have the following benefits:

Decrease in stress levels – The act of simply being in a forest setting has been proven to reduce cortisol levels in the body, and this happens immediately. This results in lower blood pressure, pulse and heart rate.

Improved immune system – Being in the woods exposes us to various essential oils generally called phytoncide which is found in wood, plants and some fruit and vegetables. Trees emit these oils to protect themselves from germs and insects. As a result, forest air doesn’t actually just feel fresher and better, inhaling phytoncide seems to actually improve our own immune system function. These positive effects on the body are still beneficial even a week after a forest visit.

Sense of well-being – After a forest visit, scientists interviewed participants who expressed feeling greater vitality in their life, more positive and more able to handle daily stress.

There are many more benefits to forest bathing, including increased memory function and energy and decreased feelings of depression.

Nanaimo is surrounded by more than 1,400 hectares of protected green space. Get out and try forest bathing. It’s great for all ages, and you don’t have to be a fitness guru to receive immediate benefits to your mind and body. For more information on parks and recreation parks, events and programs, please visit www.nanaimo.ca or call 250-756-5200.

Tammy Toor is a communications specialist with City of Nanaimo parks and rec.

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