September 27, 2017 – What began in 1982 as a national health program in Japan, shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, has become a globally-recognized practice of moving through forests more mindfully. The medical community continues to study and measure the numerous health benefits as more and more people embrace the practice, but one thing is already certain; the health benefits of being in nature and, in particular, treed areas, is good for people, of all ages.
“In a series of double blind studies over several years in Japan, forest bathing or forest therapy, has been proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system and improve overall feelings of wellbeing,” explained Kristie Virgoe, Director of Stewardship and Conservation Lands at Kawartha Conservation, and a training forest therapy guide.
On Tuesday evening, Ms. Virgoe took a group of third year Eco System Management students from Fleming College on a forest therapy retreat at Ken Reid Conservation Area.
“Forest therapy is about exploring the forest with your senses; moving more mindfully,” said Ms. Virgoe. “Working with the students from Fleming College is a great connect. They have a second semester course on nature and wellness, and this ties in perfectly to introduce the students and teachers to the health benefits of forest therapy.”
Ongoing studies and science have shown that trees, wood and plants emit an essential oil called phytoncide, which helps protect them from germs and harmful insects. Phytoncides however, not only helps the trees, but inhaling the essential oils in nature actually improves immune system function in humans.
“One study conducted in Japan over a multi-year period showed that spending just 20 minutes in nature boosted the immune system by as much as 54 percent,” said Ms. Virgoe. “That’s great news for residents locally. Having wonderful green space and forests and trails at Ken Reid Conservation Area, as well as our other conservation areas in the Kawartha watershed provides ample opportunity for individuals, couples and families to experience first-hand the tremendous benefits of walking in the woods.”
Ms. Virgoe said she is excited about the possibility of sharing the practice of shinrin-yoku and the health benefits with people interested in experiencing the benefits of forest therapy.
“We have a wonderful space here at Ken Reid Conservation Area,” said Ms. Virgoe. “And a really wonderful opportunity to connect more people with nature, and the health benefits of nature.”