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.

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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.

Environmental Neuroscientists Determine Hiking Makes You Smarter!

New research by environmental neuroscientists at the University of Utah and the University of Kansas indicates that hiking does more than just improve your health, it also makes you smarter. This according to an article in the May issue of Backpacker Magazine. The researchers involved in this study hypothesize that exposure to nature causes significant, measurable changes to the brain. Changes that allow clearer thinking, increased ability to focus, while also allowing the opportunity to function at one’s highest cognitive ability.

Environmental neuroscience is an evolving field within environmental psychology which focuses on how our surroundings affect the way our brains work. David Strayer, Ph.D, Paul Atchley and Ruth Ann Atchley are the scientists coordinating this research. The research study involved a pre-nature experience and fourth day in nature experience word association test utilizing adult Outward Bound participants. Results indicated a 50% increase in creative thought! The authors also suggest that the optimum amount of time in nature to achieve the most restoration is approximately three days. After three days, no additional restorative benefits will be obtained.

This links to a research study I initiated last week on the restorative benefits of spending time in nature that focuses on how spending time in nature impacts psychological well-being and stress levels. Participants in my study are completing a pre-nature experience and post-nature experience survey assessing their psychological well-being. We are also collecting participant heart rate and blood pressure readings to determine how spending time in nature is associated with stress levels. If you are interested in learning more about the research study please send me a message.

If spending time in nature does impact cognitive functioning this has implications that touch many fields, including human resource development (HRD). If employees can go out on nature hikes and return smarter, imagine the impact this could have on organizational performance. It is time for organizations to embrace what I refer to as “ECO-HRD”. This is an approach to employee development that utilizes time in nature to improve employee performance, well-being, and yes, intelligence.

The Restorative Benefits of Hiking and its Relationship to Job Satisfaction

Hiker Bill Boydston on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina (USA) Photo by Mark Ellison

The November/December Issue of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy magazine Journeys includes an article in which I review the results of the study I completed earlier this year for my dissertation at North Carolina State University on the restorative benefits of hiking in wilderness solitude and its relationship to job satisfaction.

Read the article via this link (scroll to page 3):   http://www.appalachiantrail.org/docs/atj/2011/04/15/atj-november-december-2010.pdf

Welcome to HikingResearch.com!

HikingResearch.com is for people who love to hike, and want to learn more about the restorative benefits of  spending time in nature, and the impact it has on human health.

I’m Mark Ellison, and I earned my doctorate from North Carolina State University, with my dissertation research focusing on the restorative benefits of hiking in wilderness solitude and the relationship to  job satisfaction. This was the first research on the restorative benefits of hiking and the relationship to the workplace.

This site will have links to research on hiking and articles related to hiking, nature, and human health.