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.

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Your Brain on Nature Reviews the Latest Research on How Nature Impacts Brain Health

I just finished reading the recently published book Your Brain on Nature: the science of nature’s influence on your health, happiness, and vitality” by Alan Logan, ND and Eva Selhub, MD. The book reviews the latest scientific research on how immersion in nature impacts the health of the human brain. Research is cited from around the world, including recent work by neuroscientists, providing convincing evidence of the benefits of nature for brain health and overall well-being. Logan and Selhub provide expert insight about the necessity of restoring health and balance in a world that is heavily dependent on technology.

What sets this book apart is the depth and breadth of information shared. Research studies are discussed, and Selhub and Logan take the next step by providing suggestions for practical application. Another unique aspect of the book is the collaboration of professionals from the naturopathic and conventional medical communities. The combination of perspectives this offers is groundbreaking and refreshing.

Topics addressed in the book include how nature impacts cognition; the specific elements of nature that influence the brain; the practices of shinrin yoku and forest medicine, specifically the cutting edge research by Dr. Qing Li and associates of Nippon Medical School in Japan; how green exercise benefits brain health; horticultural and wilderness therapies; the importance of contact with animals for health; nutrition and brain health; and the healing power of nature and ecotherapy.

I highly recommend Your Brain on Nature. It provides a strong argument that nature offers significant physical, mental and social health benefits to humans. Based on scientific evidence from around the world, it is the most complete resource on this topic I’ve found, and I plan to use it in all of my classes and seminars. Your Brain on Nature would also be a valuable tool for healthcare providers who want to incorporate nature into their practice, as well as anyone who wishes to improve their own health.

Selhub, E., & Logan, A. (2012). Your Brain on Nature: the science of nature’s influence on your health, happiness, and vitality.  Mississauga: Wiley.