An Interview with Republic of Korea Secretary of Forestry Won Sop Shin

Won Sop Shin was recently appointed the Secretary of Forestry for the Republic of Korea. Dr. Shin is  professor of social forestry at Chungbuk National University, and serves as Vice President of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine (INFOM).

Won Sop Shin, Secretary of Forestry for the Republic of Korea Photo courtesy Dr. Shin.

Won Sop Shin, Secretary of Forestry for the Republic of Korea
Photo courtesy Dr. Shin.

South Korea is establishing forest therapy bases similar to what is being utilized in Japan, promoting eco-tourism and providing access to the restorative health benefits of time in nature. Dr. Shin recently took time to answer questions about forests, human health and INFOM.

Describe your background, how you became interested in forests as a career and as a research interest. 

I was basically exposed to forests since the day I was born. I spent my childhood in Jincheon, Chungbuk Province, an area surrounded by rich forests. I began my studies in forestry in 1978 when I entered Chungbuk National University. After graduating from college, I continued my studies in Canada. I earned a master’s degree at the Brunswick University and did my Ph.D. in the University of Toronto, majoring in social forestry (forest recreation), In particular, my area of specialty includes forest recreation and healing. Since 1993, I have been a professor in forestry at Chungbuk National University.

What are the greatest challenges you face as Secretary of Forestry?

Dr. Shin: The Republic of Korea successfully transformed its denuded land into rich forests in less than half a century. It resulted in a dramatic increase in the volume of forest resources. However, compared to most of developed countries, industrial value of Korea’s forest resources remain relatively low and the country lacks forest-related infrastructure such as forest road. In addition, 70% of forests are privately owned, with a large number of small and fragmented forest holdings. This is making forest management difficult in Korea.

Due to high economic growth, demand for forests and forest-related products has been diversified, ranging from conventional timber use to recreation and healing. The Korea Forest Service is establishing forest policies aimed at maximizing the value of forests resources and benefits. The main objective of Korea’s forest policy is to come up with the optimal plan to meet these needs.

What are your top priorities during your time as Forest Minister?

A hiking excursion in the forests of the Republic of Korea Photo courtesy Dr. Shin

A hiking excursion in the forests of the Republic of Korea
Photo courtesy Dr. Shin

Dr. Shin: With the inauguration of Park Geun-hye Administration, we are working under the vision of “creating a green welfare nation where forests bring happiness to our people”. By establishing a virtuous cycle of various benefits from forests, our goal is to make forests lively places where people live, work and play.  With this background, we will pull efforts to come up with a prospective policy alternative which can maximize the contribution of forests to forest welfare. For example, the Korea Forest Service has been promoting the policy called “From cradle to grave: Life with forests” since 2003. This aims at providing public benefits from forests to people of all ages, encompassing all life-cycles (from prenatal to death). Open to all public, we provide forest kindergarten, camping, education, recreation as well as tree burial services.

Are you establishing forest therapy bases similar to what has been done in Japan? Describe why you are doing this. What process are you using to identify sites, and then certify them? How many would you like to establish? How will these be promoted. Will you do research in these forests?

People enjoying the forests of South Korea. Photo courtesy Dr. Shin

People enjoying the forests of South Korea.
Photo courtesy Dr. Shin

Dr. Shin: Regarding the selection procedure of forest therapy complexes, the Selection Committee composed of experts from forestry, medicine and environment will thoroughly review the candidate sites which have been previously submitted by local governments.

The construction of the National Baekdu-daegan Forest Therapy Complex, anticipated to become the landmark of forest healing in Korea, is well underway. This complex include the research center on forest healing. It is planned that at least one forest therapy complex will be established in each of the seven different regions of Korea. Further research on therapeutic effects of forest environment, development of therapeutic programs, services and forest education will be carried out in the research centers of these complexes.

Do the people of South Korea have a tradition of spending time in nature? Hiking? What type of programs are offered to encourage people to get outside and explore nature?

Enjoying a hiking excursion in the Republic of Korea Photo courtesy Dr. Shin

Enjoying a hiking excursion in the Republic of Korea
Photo courtesy Dr. Shin

Dr Shin: Since the forests make up 2/3 of our land, Korean people naturally took the mountain as a place for their livelihood. Ever since the ancient times, we sought the life within the nature and followed the laws of the nature, such as training our mind and body in the forests.

Recently, due to the continuous building of the national forest-trails (hiking/trekking trails) there are more people enjoying hiking. Also, beside the original vertical-hiking, there has been an increase in people enjoying the horizontal-hiking (around mountain, field, village, etc.) due to the opening of the Jiri Mountain walking paths and trails.

Programs that have been Developed

Forest Commentator Program: This program systematically convey’s forest’s various values and functions to the people and also guides various ways to experience forest.  Number of participants: (2006) 122  (2009) 767,000  (2012) 1,537,000

Forest Kindergarten Program: Provides various forest experiencing opportunities and education in connection with the kindergartens·nurseries. Number of participants: (2008) 81 institutions, 1,300 people  (2012) 3,910 institutions 420,000 people (32 fold increase)

Youth Forest Education Program: A program to provide correct understanding of forests and cultivate forest-loving mind to our youths, in order to manage and conserve our future forest.  Participants: total 690,000 (450,000 elementary school students, 160,000 middleschool students, and 80,000 highschool students)

Teacher’s Training Course for promoting forest education and enhancing capability: Evey year, Government institutions and civil organizations provide to teachers the training program for the forest-education.  

Forest Training Institute’s forest experiencing course for teachers/Forest-loving Boy-scout Teacher’s program: 2,556 participants since ’09.

Supports for Creative Experience Program: With the adoption of the five-day school week system, this program promotes the development of various experience-centered theme-programs, trying to provide supports for the family-centered recreational culture.

Distinctive theme-programs for each recreational forests: total 32 programs

Forest Healing Program: Creation/management of ‘Healing Forest’ to efficiently introduce and provide experiences for forest’s various healing effects. Locations of ‘Healing Forest’: San-um, Chungtae-san (Mt.), Jangsung, and Jangheung

Inclusive program for Disabled People: To provide forest experiences to the disabled, this program operates 19 rooms for reservation in 14 recreational forests.

Hiking/Trekking Experiencing Education for Youth: Via ‘Baekdu Daegan Forest-Eco Tour’, allowing youths to develop natural spirit and also to provide better understandings and patriotism.

What are the most significant threats facing the forests of South Korea? The environment in general?

Dr. Shin: Even recognized by the United Nations, Korea is known for the successful forest-rehabilitation projects. Korea’s forests make up about 64% of our land, and it is forming the basis of the ecosystem as well as providing the shelter for the various species and fauna. Due to the global problem of climate change (global warming), Korean forests’ vitality is also being threatened. Due to the climate abnormalities caused by climate change, there are enlarging trends for forest disasters (forest fire, disease, and pest, etc.), and this became a threat for the Korean forest ecosystem.

Because of the global warming, the plant and vegetation zones are predicted to move, and this will cause major changes and threats in the biodiversity.

Korean Fir tree, one of the typical indigenous Korean plants, is losing its dispersion and original habitat, and plants living in the highlands are in danger of extinction.

To protect forest from threats caused by climate change, the Korea Forest Service is trying to conserve Korea’s biodiversity and forest genetic resources via in and ex-situ conservation, and also via setting the preservation areas.

How do see as the role of INFOM internationally? How can we get researchers from other regions involved in this organization?

Dr. Shin: Lifestyle has changed drastically due to the increase in urbanization and technology development, causing many life-style-related health problems in the modern societies. These unhealthy problems are known to stem from the disconnection with the nature. Therefore, INFOM should play a role in restoring this connection with natural environments, thereby promoting human health, welfare and quality of life. I highlight the need for encouraging experts from different fields of sciences to take part in INFOM activities as well as for expanding research fields.

Concluding Thoughts

Dr.Shin: As forests holds multi-functional values ranging from forestry production, eco-environment to land resources, it is not desirable to manage forests only for improving one particular function. Today, the international society is in pursuit of sustainable forest management to optimize various forest functions for both the present and next generations. In line with this global concept, Korea also continues to manage forests sustainably so as to improve broader multiple functions and values of forest. I am determined to mange our forests in a well-balanced way between resources development and restoration, with the view of contributing to national economy and land development as well as improving the quality of life (through green welfare.).

Advertisements

Four Days Exploring Cutting Edge Forest and Nature Research

Qing Li and Mark Ellison hosting the first North American INFOM meeting.

Qing Li and Mark Ellison hosting the first North American INFOM meeting.

Researchers, educators and practitioners interested in nature, forests, outdoor recreation and their link to human health converged on Traverse City, Michigan May 19-23, 2013. The joint conference of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations and the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals provided the forum for a dynamic exchange of ideas. Observing U.S. Forest Service staff engaged in lively conservation with researchers from Finland on how forests impact health was just one of many enlightening experiences from the conference.

Enjoying lunch at the Red Ginger Sushi Bar in Traverse City with International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine colleagues (Left to Right) Qing Li (Nippon Medical School, Tokyo), Liisa Tyrvainen (Finnish Forest Research Institute), Vicki Simkovic, ND (Ontario), Kurt Beil, ND (Portland, Oregon), Kalevi Korpela, University of Tampere, Finland, and Julia Africa, Harvard School of Public Health.

Enjoying lunch at the Red Ginger Sushi Bar in Traverse City with International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine colleagues (Left to Right) Qing Li (Nippon Medical School, Tokyo), Liisa Tyrvainen (Finnish Forest Research Institute), Mark Ellison, Vicki Simkovic, ND (Ontario), Kurt Beil, ND (Portland, Oregon), Kalevi Korpela, University of Tampere, Finland, and Julia Africa, Harvard School of Public Health.

Adding to the quality of the conference was the initial meeting of The North American Chapter of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine (INFOM). Significant interest was expressed in the organization during the conference. Qing Li, MD, Ph.D, (Forest Medicine/Shinrin yoku researcher and vice president of INFOM from Tokyo)  presented information about the history and purpose of the organization.  I facilitated a discussion on the plans for the North American chapter and our next steps. When I first proposed the concept of a North American chapter to Qing Li, it was with the desire to bring together researchers and practitioners wanting to advance the quality of research being conducted, thus providing a more solid grounding for the use of nature as a healthcare treatment alternative.  That sentiment was echoed many times by participants during our meeting.

Several INFOM board members were in attendance at the meeting including Liisa Tyrvainen, Professor at the Finnish Forest Research Institute, and Kalevi Korpela, Professor at the University of Tampere, Finland.

Following the meeting Brian Luke Seaward hosted a screening of his award-winning documentary that recently aired on PBS, Earth Songs: Mountains, Water and the Healing Power of Nature”

Research presentations

The Sleeping Bear Trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes National LakeshorePhoto by Mark Ellison

Conference attendees riding The Sleeping Bear Trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Photo by Mark Ellison

One  strength of this conference was the variety of research presented. Topics of presentations included restoration of urban forests in Estonia, forest medicine as preventive medicine, nature based outdoor recreation and emotional well-being, the stress reducing effects of different urban nature areas, and addressing community health issues with parks and trails.

Next steps for INFOM

Conference attendees enjoy a short break    between sessions.

Conference attendees enjoy a short break between sessions.

The North American Chapter of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine aims to bring together researchers and practitioners  interested in strengthening the evidenced based research being conducted on forests, nature, and human health. One of our first initiatives will be to develop a list-serve to help facilitate communication. We will also develop a webpage for the North American chapter on the INFOM website. If you have an interest in becoming involved with INFOM please send your contact information. One longer term goal is to coordinate a “research round table” or conference to help facilitate the quality and quantity of research on this topic. HikingResearch.com will continue to provide updates on the evolution of INFOM in North America.

The Nature and Health Bookshelf

There are several recently published books that I recommend for an enhanced understanding of the connections between nature and health. The books cover different aspects of nature and health that provide a solid foundation on the topic.

Your Brain on Nature (2012) Eva Selhub and Alan Loganybonbook

Your Brain on Nature offers scientifically proven, nature-based methods for reducing stress, improving cognitive powers, and boosting the efficiency of exercise.

 

 

 

Forest Medicine (2012) Qing Li, Editor

The goal of Forest Medicine is to present up-to-date findings related to forest medicine research to show forest medicine picthe beneficial effects of forest environments on human health. The book is organized into sections focused on evaluation of the forest environment; effects of the forest environment on human health; effects of factors in the forest environments on human health;  greens areas and human health: epidemiological studies; and research into forests and human health, including recent trends worldwide. The book includes evidence from both experimental and epidemiological studies and covers recent trends related to forests and human health in Japan, Korea, China and  Europe. Forest Medicine can be utilized by the fields of forestry, horticulture, alternative medicine, environmental medicine, preventive medicine, public health and aromatherapy.

Forest, Trees & Human Health (2011) Nilsson, K.; Sangster, M.; Gallis, C.; Hartig, T.; de Vries, S.; Seeland, K.; Schipperijn, J., Editors. 

Forests, Trees and Human Health is the outcome of the European Union’s COST Action forest trees and human health picE39 ‘Forests, Trees and Human Health and Wellbeing’, and brings together work carried out over four years by scientists from 25 countries working in the fields of forestry, health, environment and social sciences. The focus is primarily on European health priorities, but also includes research from other regions including North America.  A strength of the book is that it extends across both disciplines and nations, serving as a reference for researchers in forestry, health, natural resource management and environmental policy. Forests, Trees and Human Health is the only unified body of work on this topic.

Green Care: For Human Therapy, Social Innovation, Rural Economy, and Education (2013) Christos Gallis, Editor 

Green care is described as the use of agricultural farms and the biotic and abiotic elementsGreen Care 7 10 HD of nature for health and therapy-promoting interventions as a base for promoting human mental and physical health, as well as quality of life.  This book presents scientific knowledge related to green care, its definitions and theories, and findings to show the beneficial effects of green care on human health and well being. Also discussed are the social, political, economic, and educational aspects of green care.

Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature Into Urban Design and Planning (2011) Timothy Beatley 

Biophilic Cities outlines the essential elements of a biophilic city, and provides examples biopand stories about cities that have successfully integrated biophilic elements, from the building to the regional level, around the world. Beatley reviews biophilic urban design and planning, describing urban ecological networks and connected systems of urban greenspace, green rooftops and green walls, and sidewalk gardens.

Announcing the North American Chapter of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine

The Board of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine (INFOM) in Tokyo, Japan recently approved a North American chapter of the organization. The purpose of INFOM is to promote research on nature and forest medicine, including the effects of forest and nature environments. INFOM aims to provide a platform for those interested in the practice of nature and forest medicine for promoting the effective use of forest resources on stress management, health promotion, and the prevention and rehabilitation of diseases as part of an integrated approach to medical care.INFOM

The initial meeting of the North American chapter of the society will be held at the IUFRO Conference on Forests for People May 19-23, 2013 in Traverse City, Michigan. The INFOM meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 20 at 6:30 p.m. Qing Li, MD, PhD, Associate Professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo and I will host the initial meeting. Dr. Li has been at the forefront of forest medicine research on the practice of shinrin yoku (forest bathing), which is walking in the forest to obtain the health benefits. Dr. Li is the Vice-President and Secretary General of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine, and I serve on the Board.

We invite you to become a charter member of this truly international organization of researchers and practitioners seeking to learn more about how nature impacts human health and effectiveness. If you would like more details about the North American chapter and how you can become involved please share your contact information.

An Interview with Forest Medicine and Shinrin Yoku Researcher Dr. Qing Li

Dr. Qing Li at the birthplace of forest bathing (Photo provided by Q. Li)

I recently had the opportunity to interview Qing Li, MD, PhD, Associate Professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, Japan. Dr. Li has been at the forefront of forest medicine research on the practice of shinrin yoku (forest bathing), which is walking in the forest to obtain the health benefits. Dr. Li is also the Vice-President and Secretary General of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine based in Japan. I have been collaborating with Dr. Li in hopes of establishing this organization in North America.

Dr. Li was also recently interviewed for a program on BBC Radio called ‘The Secret Power of Trees’ which will be broadcast on Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 10:30 a.m. UK time.  Outside Magazine recently published an article in its December 2012 issue on “The Nature Cure” which also features Dr. Li’s research.

Hiking Research: Why are you interested in forest medicine? How did you become involved in this type of research?

Big cedar forest in Japan (Photo provided by Q. Li)

Dr. Qing Li: In 1982, the Forest Agency of Japan first proposed a new movement called “forest bathing trip” as a healthy lifestyle. Now it has become a recognized relaxation and/or stress management activity in Japan. However, there has not been sufficient medical evidence supporting the therapeutic effects of forest bathing trips and evidence-based evaluation as well as a therapeutic menu of forest bathing trip have been requested. Against this background, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan initiated a research project between 2004 and 2006 to investigate the therapeutic effects of forests on human health from a scientific perspective.

In fact, my major is Environmental Medicine, especially in the field of Environmental Immunology. I have been studying the effects of environmental chemicals, stress and lifestyle on immune function since 1988. I am interested in the effect of all environmental factors on human health. I am also interested in the effect of forest environments on human health.

Because of my background, when the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan organized the project team, I was invited as a main member of the project team.

Hiking Research: Has forest medicine been accepted by “traditional” medicine practitioners in Japan as a treatment for health issues?

Forest bathing in a Japanese Cypress forest (Photo provided by Q. Li)

Dr. Qing Li:  The Forest Medicine has been accepted by “traditional” medicine practitioners in Japan as a preventive medicine for health issues, but not as a treatment for health issues.

Hiking Research: Do organizations in Japan provide employees paid time to experience nature?

Dr. Qing Li: Some companies in Japan hold study and training meetings for new employees in Forest Therapy bases. Some companies make a contract with Forest Therapy bases for providing employees time to experience nature.

 

Hiking Research: What are your suggestions for optimizing a forest bathing experience to obtain the greatest benefits?

Dr. Qing Li: Usually I suggest working men and women take a two-night/three-day trip to forests for obtaining the better benefits. Because one day trip is too short and more than three day trip is too long. However, a longer trip will be better for senior citizens.

Hiking Research: How much forest area is needed to obtain these benefits? Do certain types of trees offer more benefits?

Dr. Qing Li: In Japan, forest is used to refer to land with a tree canopy cover of more than 30 percent and area of more than 0.3 ha. The trees should be able to reach a minimum height of 5 m with a width of more than 20 m. The forests including Japanese cypress (Chamaecyparis obtuse, Hinoki in Japanese), Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria, Sugi in Japanese) have shown beneficial effects.

A group of women enjoy forest bathing (Photo provided by Q. Li)

Hiking Research: Japan has designated Forest Therapy Bases. How are forests validated? Who does this?

Dr. Qing Li:  Japan has designated 48 Forest Therapy Bases so far. (http://www.fo-society.jp//quarter/)

The forests were validated from the following aspects: 

  1. Physical factors: air temperature, humidity, illuminance, radiant heat, air current (wind velocity), sounds (the sound of a waterfall, the whispering of the wind in the trees), and so on.
  2. Chemical factors: volatile organic compounds derived from plants (trees), such as alpha-pinene and limonene, which are terpenes including hemiterpenes, monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and diterpenes, also called phytoncides.
  3. Psychological factors: those factors reflecting the subjective evaluation of forest environments such as hot/cold, light/dark, tense/relaxed, beautiful/ugly, good/bad, relaxing/stimulating, quiet/noisy, and plain/colorful. Semantic Differential (SD) is usually used to evaluate the psychological responses to forest environments. The technique was originally developed to measure affective responses to stimulus words and concepts in terms of ratings of bipolar scales defined with adjectives on each end. The SD methodology is considered a simple, economical means of obtaining data on emotional reactions that could be used in many different situations or cultural contexts.
  4. Physiological effects: Data/evidence obtained from experimental studies including field investigations and laboratory experiments, .i.e., investigations on the effect of walking in forests and natural environments on psycho-neuro-endocrino-immunology. These experiments study the effect of forest environments on the central nervous system (prefrontal cerebral activity, functional MRI), the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (blood pressure, heart rate variability), psychological responses (the POMS test), the endocrine system (stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline), and the immune system (NK activity, intracellular anti-cancer proteins in NK cells) determined by physiological, biological, biochemical, psychological, and immunological methods. Recent technological developments have enabled us to conduct the above investigations in a forest field.

A research team evaluates the forests and a Committee designates the Forest Therapy Bases based on the results obtained by the research team.

 

Hiking Research:  Can forest therapy bases be started in other countries? What is the process?

Dr. Qing Li: Yes. Recently South Korea has started to designate Forest Therapy Bases based on the experience in Japan. (The steps to establish Forest Therapy Bases are listed in the previous question.)

 

Hiking Research: Describe the connection Japanese citizens have with the natural environment. How active are they in visiting the forest therapy bases to experience the benefits of shinrin yoku?

Dr. Qing Li: Walking in forests has now become a well-recognized relaxation and/or stress management activity in Japan. Many people in Japan visit the forest therapy bases to enjoy the forest bathing trip and to experience the benefits of shinrin yoku during weekends and holidays. I also visit forest parks during weekends and holidays.

Hiking Research: What research projects are you currently involved with?

Dr. Qing Li: I am doing a project on the preventive effect of forest walking on life-style related disease. In my university (Nippon Medical School), I have a special program of Forest Medicine for medical students. In this program, eight to thirteen medical students visit city green parks in Tokyo every Monday afternoon for about 2 hours during April to November to enjoy the effect of forest bathing. The students take questionnaires before and after the walking to evaluate the psychologically calming effect. This program started from 2009.

Hiking Research: What do you see as emerging trends in nature and forest medicine?

Dr. Qing Li: Imagine a new medical science that could let you know how to be more active, more relaxed and healthier with reduced stress and reduced risk of lifestyle-related disease and cancer by visiting forests. This new medical science is Forest Medicine.

Forest Medicine has emerged as a new interdisciplinary science and a focus of public attention. Forest Medicine belongs to the categories of alternative medicine, environmental medicine and preventive medicine and is the study of the effects of forest environments on human health.

Nature and Forest Medicine will prevent people from cancers and lifestyle-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, depression and hypertension.

Outside Magazine’s December 2012 Article on “The Nature Cure” Sheds Light on the Emerging Field of Forest Medicine

Outside Magazine’s December 2012 issue includes an in-depth article by Florence Williams entitled “The nature cure: Take two hours of pine forest and call me in the morning.”  Williams describes the emerging focus on the connection between nature and health as the “slow nature movement.” The article is the most complete review of its kind in a magazine that I have found, and pieces together the research taking place around the world. She cites the work of Alan Logan, Richard Louv, Rachel and Stephen Kaplan and others who have helped raise awareness of the links between nature and health.

Williams visited Japan to learn firsthand about the practice of shinrin yoku, or forest bathing, which is walking in nature to obtain the health benefits.  Shinrin yoku is a Shinto and Buddhist inspired practice that “lets nature enter the body through all five senses.” She discovered that forest bathing has been standard preventive medicine in Japan for thousands of years. The stressed masses from Tokyo and other urban areas flee to the forest for rejuvenation, trying to escape “karoshi” or death by overwork. Between 2.5 million and 5 million visitors walk the “Forest Therapy Trails” in Japan each year. The Japanese government currently has 48 “Forest Therapy Bases” with plans to expand to 100, and has spent over $4 million on forest bathing research since 2004. The South Korean government believes in the practice as well and is investing $140 million for a National Forest Therapy Center to be completed by 2014.

Autumn leaves in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina (USA) Photo by Mark Ellison

Williams interviews Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a physiological anthropologist and vice director of Chiba University’s Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences. Miyazaki emphasizes that spending time in nature helps facilitate a feeling of comfort because our rhythms become synchronized with those of the environment. During her visit to Japan, Williams also talks with Dr. Qing Li, Senior Assistant Professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo who has done extensive research on how spending time in forests impacts the immune system. Dr. Li is asked how he utilizes nature for health and describes using cypress oils for aromatherapy nightly. He also suggests taking a vacation to nature, not the city; at least one weekend a month visiting a natural area; visiting a park at least once a week; trying to walk under trees when walking in urban areas; and going to quiet places, preferably near water.

Williams also reviews some of the recent research linking time in nature to improved health, and provides suggestions for how to connect with nature. This article is an excellent overview of where the emerging field of forest medicine is headed. A key observation made by Williams is that in the United States “researchers are mostly showing people pictures of nature, while the Japanese are pouring it into every orifice.”  To validate the claims that “nature heals” and gain acceptance as a viable preventative healthcare option, the Japanese approach to research must be more fully embraced in the United States. As research continues to reveal “a nature cure”, hopefully more in the U.S. will take notice and loosen their grip on their smart phone long enough to experience the benefits nature has to offer.

An Invitation to Become Involved with the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine

The International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine  (INFOM) based in Tokyo, Japan seeks to include in its membership a network of North American researchers, scientists, and practitioners who are exploring the links between nature and human health.

To help raise awareness of INFOM in North America, I am partnering with Alan Logan, ND, a naturopathic doctor, scientist, independent researcher, and co-author of Your Brain on Nature, and Qing Li, MD, PhD, Senior Assistant Professor in the  Department of Hygiene and Public Health at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, Japan. Dr. Li has conducted cutting edge researImagech on shinrin yoku (walking in nature) and forest medicine in Japan, and is the author of the recently published book Forest Medicine.

The purpose of INFOM is to promote research on nature and forest medicine, including the effects of forest and nature environments. INFOM aims to provide a platform for organizations, universities and governments who are interested in the practice of nature and forest medicine for promoting the effective use of forest resources on stress management, health promotion, and the prevention and rehabilitation of diseases as part of an integrated approach to medical care.

Dr. Alan Logan states, “over the last decade or so, Japanese scientists have been examining the ways in which spending time in nature, and forests in particular, can influence objective markers of stress physiology and human immune functioning. These researchers have collaborated together under the auspices of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine and have made significant contributions to our understanding of how the natural environment can influence our health. However, the Japanese experts have been working in relative isolation, and in an effort to expand awareness of the work globally, and to examine natural settings beyond forests – i.e. parks and urban green space, or waterside areas, so –called blue space – INFOM was born. If you are a scientist, physician, or an allied health care provider interested in the work of INFOM, please contact us using the email address below.”

Dr. Qing Li, Vice-president and Secretary General of INFOM states, “many researchers from Japan, Korea, China, North America and Europe contribute to INFOM. We welcome your participation and invite you to become involved in INFOM.”

We are creating a database of educators, scientists, physicians, allied health care providers and professionals from other related fields who are interested in networking and becoming involved with INFOM. To be included please email your name, contact information and professional affiliation to hikingresearch at yahoo.com. To learn more about INFOM go to www.infom.org.