Are the benefits of Ecotherapy & Forest bathing scientifically founded?
1. Introduction Ecotherapy, Forest bathing, Forest therapy, Green therapy, are terms known in western countries within the mystic connotation. In Japan, instead, the Shinrin yoku, (Forest bathing), has been promoted as medical prevention by the Japanese Forests Government since 1982. What is exactly known by it? Are the benefits of Ecotherapy and Forest bathing scientifically founded? This article, is based on the data worldwide research currently revealed in this field, with the aim to illustrate it by a scientific aspect. There is no intend to list all the scientific developments, but to mention some of these to answer the question.“Ecotherapy” is a term coined by Howard Clinebell and refers to healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the Earth. Ecotherapy or Green therapy is the name given to a wide range of outdoor activities which should improve mental and physical well-being through the deep connection with nature. “Forest bathing” is the intentional practice of connecting with nature while being surrounded by it. A lot of people have already experienced, at least once, the feeling of being energized and revitalized by the contact with a natural environment, the bathing part simply means using all of your senses to soak up the special atmosphere of the forest. Referring to my own experience, psychological and physical well-being increases if you sleep under a tree or enjoy a sea bathing looking at the horizon in a meditative state of mind, but what do the modern researches say about it?
2. Scientific experiments In the last 20 years many investigations have been made in the medical and multidisciplinary field. It is extremely difficult for Scientists to reproduce a controlled and reiterated experiment about the influence of the tree on the human life. This is due to the large number of variables and an excessive time of observation required for such experiment. Despite this difficulty an alternative way has been found to evaluate the impact of Trees on the Human health. All the experiments carried out in, western and eastern countries, offered results supporting the positive influence of the trees on human beings. Have you ever heard about the Emerald Ash Borer?
2.1 Statistic researches The emerald ash borer is a rare beetle native in East Asia. Between 2002 and 2010 it killed more than 100 million of ash trees in 15 states in the United States of America. The researcher and economist Geoffrey H. Donovan, was interested in finding a connection between trees and human health, he took advantage from this environmental disaster to start a profitable research. He collected demographic data from the area that involved this phenomenon and tried to establish a connection between the trees death and the human beings mortality. During the emerald ash borer infestation, as seen from the results, there has been an additional 15,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and an additional 6,000 deaths from respiratory disease. Considering that trees improve the quality of the air and reduces the stress, these two causes of human death could be perhaps affected by the absence of trees. Furthermore, wealthier counties, with large green urban areas, were impacted by a major number of deaths. In Japan a similar research has been made by group of Japanese medical researchers coordinated by Dr. Qing Li. The results of survey showed a direct correlation between higher percentage of forest cover and lower cancer mortality.
2.2 Medical researches In the medical field, the Ulrich's investigation in 1984, has shown as surgical patients housed in rooms with windows looking out on green spaces, were recovering faster than patients who didn't have this view. The evidence confirmed how a green space can positively shape Human Brains, reducing the stress levels and consequently improving the general psychophysical well-being. In 2005 further research carried out by a group of Japanese scientists led by Dr Qing Li aimed to discover the effects induced by essential oils VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) emitted by some trees species on the Humans immune system. Laboratory investigations was conducted to evaluate the action of the essential wood oils of two Japanese conifers on the activity of the human NK lymphocytes. The NK (Natural killer) cells of the immune system provides rapid response to viral-infected cells and to tumor formation. These cells were kept in contact, in controlled and reproducible environmental conditions, with different concentrations of essential oils of the two conifers. The effective contact dose was very low. The results showed a strong increase in the metabolic activity of NK lymphocyte cultures and their intense multiplication activity. It was clear how the essential oils influence in positive the activity of the NK and consequently may improve the human immune system. A further investigation was conducted to monitor the effect of the essential oils on human beings. In one experiment was asked to participate to a forest trip, for three days, to a group of Japanese men and women. All they had to walk in the forest for at least 2.5 km each walk. During the 1st day a single walk was enough and two walks the 2nd day. A group of tourists, visiting historical and artistic attractions, was tested for the same experiment. None of the selected participants had practiced Shinrin yoku in the previous three months. Blood and urine of the participants were analyzed during the trip, and on days 7 and 30 after the trips. For the forest bathing participants, the urine analyses showed a lower level of adrenaline, considered as the "stress hormone", the blood analyses showed an increased number and activity of the NK, Natural killer lymphocytes and the positive results obtained from the first group remain stable for kept constant until 30 days. On the contrary the analysis of the tourists did not show any improvement of the immune system. Therefore, a walk in the forest once a month can be considered a healthy habit and a form of prevention.
3. Conclusion Researches carried out in the last 20 years showed as the positive impact of the trees on the individuals does not affect just the psychophysical sphere but act as well on a physiological level. In fact, a beautiful view on a green space not only can improve human mood and reduce the stress level but especially, the immersion in a forest can improve the human immune system. The value of trees and the deep connection between the Human Being and Nature, have been sustained by spiritual disciplines since our ancestor’s time. Now, even scientists are getting more interested in this topic and have already made big discoveries. Nevertheless, in the western society this information are still not of common knowledge. Probably in a few years’ time Ecotherapy and Forest bathing will be introduced as medical prevention activity by our sanity system. In the meantime, we must appeal to our intuition, to understand if Ecotherapy & Forest bathing can suit us!
4. Bibliography 1. “Exploring Connections Between Trees and Human Health at https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/sciencef/scifi158.pdf 2. “Gli spazi verdi per la salute umana: Un potenziale ancora poco conosciuto”. http://www.carabinieri.it/editoria/natura/la-rivista/home/tematiche/ambiente/gli-spazi-verdi-per-la-salute-umana-un-potenziale-ancora-poco-conosciuto 3. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6143402 4. Phytoncides (wood essential oils) induce human natural killer cell activity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16873099
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