How walking in the woods benefits your health

April 30, 2015, 1:29 p.m.
forest walk

Walking among trees makes us more relaxed, nicer people.

It should come as no surprise by now that walking among trees has health benefits. Shinrin-yoku or "forest bathing" is a practice in Japan, where people are encouraged to visit and spend time in a forest to improve their health.

"[S]tudies have confirmed that spending time within a forest setting can reduce psychological stress, depressive symptoms, and hostility, while at the same time improving sleep and increasing both vigor and a feeling of liveliness," reports Mother Earth News. "These subjective changes match up nicely with objective results reported in nearly a dozen studies involving 24 forests—lower levels of cortisol and lower blood pressure and pulse rate."

Just the smell of trees has health benefits. "Chemicals secreted by trees, known as phytoncides, have been linked with improved immune defense as well as a reduction in anxiety and increase in pain threshold," reports Slate in an article on the health benefits of nature. Studies have also shown that children with ADHD who play in a green outdoor environment, rather than an indoor or constructed environment, show a decrease in their symptoms. Even just living around more trees means a healthier overall mental state. A recent study showed that Londoners who live near trees take fewer antidepressants.

Of course, being in a forest also means there's a certain amount of exercise going on. Exercise is a proven solution for many ailments including fatigue, depression, anxiety and of course obesity. Combining the benefits of movement with the benefits of a forest setting is an extra-strong prescription for many health issues.

If there is one good thing you're going to do for yourself today, perhaps it should be heading out the door to go take a walk in a forest or a tree-lined park.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.