Finding Quiet Can Be Elusive, Even in Nature

By Mark A. Ellison, Ed.D.

Perhaps you noticed that we live in a noisy world. Maybe it is the constant hum of traffic, or the construction near your office, or the neighbors that are constantly using lawn equipment. It is difficult to escape. Over half the world’s population now lives in urban settings, making it extremely difficult to find quiet if you live in these settings. Even in rural areas, finding places free of human created noise is not easy.

nature pic

The National Park Service recently created a map that indicates that many people live in areas where night skies and soundscapes are very degraded. The blue areas of the map below indicate places where noise is less prevalent. Unfortunately, most of the eastern United States is brightly colored indicating significant noise and light pollution. The park service also found that even in more natural backcountry settings noise is prevalent due to hikers, maintenance equipment and other sources. Excessive noise is harmful not only to human health, but to wildlife as well. Certain species of animals avoid noisy places. America_Quiet

Fortunately there are places such as the “One Square Inch” project in Olympic National Park that are treated as sanctuaries for silence, to experience the quiet of nature, and used to help build awareness of the need for more areas like it.

A number of research studies have linked excessive noise with increased levels of violence and crime. Humans need to experience some levels of quiet and solitude to remain healthy. Nature provides a primary escape for this. However, if the dwindling areas of nature are not protected, there will no more places offering this type of escape.

Many of us struggle to hear our “inner voice”, to live a balanced life, and to take time to reflect. The Cherokee have a term for living life in balance, duyuktv. Take time to find a quiet natural area nearby and soak in some of the restorative power of nature, to find a sense of balance, of duyuktv. Once you have captured that restoration, share it with others. Then, work together to help protect the natural areas where you live and explore.

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Introducing Silence to our Landscape, One Square Inch at a Time

It is raining this morning at my home in North Carolina. It is soothing listening to the gentle showers while watching the songbirds frolic in the water. What I l love about rain, and snow, is that the world gets a little quieter because not as may people are out, and things seem to slow down a bit.

Olympic National Park Photo by Mark Ellison

Olympic National Park
Photo by Mark Ellison

I enjoy days like this because the world is a noisy place. The majority of us live and work in cities, or developed areas, which usually means non-stop human generated noise: traffic, lawnmowers, airplanes, sirens, trains, machinery and crowded side walks. There is no way to escape. The verve of the city is stimulating, and fun. But for our health, we need an escape from it.

Noise can negatively impact health in many ways. Noise causes stress, and literally any sound can be perceived as noise under the right conditions. Over 11 million Americans are exposed to traffic noise at or above levels that risk hearing loss (Bell et al, 2001). Exposure to noise has been associated with many health problems including hypertension, ulcers, compromised immune system, digestive problems, psychological changes that lead to disease, sleep loss, and delayed development of reading and verbal skills in children (Bell et al, 2001). Noise also increases aggressiveness when people are angry (Bell et al, 2001). Studies have linked increased crime to the presence of noise in communities (Bell et al, 2001).

Spending time in natural settings provides  opportunities to experience silence. Freedom not only from ambient noise, but also the opportunity to experience “cognitive quiet” a term first used by Stephen & Rachel Kaplan, professors at the University of Michigan, to describe clearing the mind to be able to think more clearly. Silence in nature does not necessarily mean complete quiet, just freedom from human generated noise. The presence of what the Kaplans identified as “soft fascination” in nature is relaxing, not stress inducing. Soft fascination includes things such as bird songs, the water of a stream flowing over rocks, a  rain shower, or the sound of the wind rustling the leaves, which help clear the mind. Soft fascination captures our attention to a small degree, but leaves room for thought, and self reflection.

Moss and fern covered tree in Hoh Rain Forest Photo by Mark Ellison

Moss and fern covered tree in Hoh Rain Forest
Photo by Mark Ellison

One of the most beautiful and quiet places I have hiked is the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. I experienced such a profound sense of peace as I hiked deep in this forest. Hoh Rain Forest is home to the “One Square Inch” research project, designed to create a sanctuary for silence in Olympic National Park. One Square Inch of Silence was designated on Earth Day 2005 to protect and manage the natural soundscape in Olympic Park’s backcountry wilderness. The reasoning behind this is that if a loud noise, such as  an aircraft, can impact many square miles, then a natural place, if maintained in a 100% noise-free condition, will also impact many square miles around it. Protecting a single square inch of land from noise pollution  may be able to benefit large areas of the park. One Square Inch may be the quietest place in the United States.

Olympic National Park was chosen for One Square Inch because it has a diverse natural soundscape combined with substantial periods of natural quiet. Unlike other national parks, such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon or Hawaii Volcanoes, air tourism is undeveloped and roads do not divide park lands.You can experience the natural sounds of Hoh Rain Forest and Olympic National Park in this “Breathing Space” compilation of natural sounds. I use this in the office to block noise, and at other times to just relax.

Olympic National Park Photo by Mark Ellison

Olympic National Park
Photo by Mark Ellison

When I take a group on a hike for one of my classes I introduce experiencing silence as part of the trip. Hiking in groups offers tremendous opportunities to connect with others. More importantly though, it provides freedom from human noise (relatively speaking) and an opportunity to observe the sights and sounds that only nature provides. It also allows time to quiet the mind.

We need to be aware of the amount of noise we make and the impact it can have on others whether in our everyday settings, or in a forest. We can have a similar impact as the One Square Inch project by doing our part to reduce noise. I encourage you to take a holiday from noise, and breath in the true essence of the natural world, silence. Your health depends on it.

Reference

Bell, T., Greene, T., Fisher, J. & Baum, A. (2001) Environmental Psychology. New York: Taylor & Francis.

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.).

“Hiking to Experience the Restorative Power of Nature” Class Offered this Fall

hiking class picture

Hiking on the Appalachian Trail near “Beauty Spot” in Tennessee (USA)
Photo by Mark Ellison

Emerging research is revealing that hiking in nature has a powerful restorative impact on psychological and physiological health. The benefits of time spent in nature can improve resiliency and serve as a buffer from the stress of urban environments and hectic work settings.

I will be offering a class this fall (August – October) in a hybrid format on  “Hiking to Experience the Restorative Power of Nature” that will guide participants on how to plan and prepare for a hiking trip that maximizes the health benefits of time spent in nature. We will then get out in nature to experience those benefits! The class will be offered online with two all day Saturday experiential sessions on hiking trails in North Carolina.

Topics covered in the class will include planning a hiking and backpacking trip; selecting appropriate gear and equipment; the principles of Leave No Trace and how to limit the impact on the environment; and safety in the backcountry.  We will review the many health benefits associated with spending time in nature including emerging trends in nature and forest therapy such as the practice of shinrin yoku in Japan. Class participants will learn how to connect to nature and experience the stress reduction and restoration that it offers.

Several guest presenters will share their expertise with the class, including Alan Logan, ND, co-author of the book Your Brain on Nature, and invited faculty for the Harvard School of Continuing Medical Education.

The one credit hour class (PED 171) is offered through Montgomery Community College in Troy, North Carolina. Registration information is available online at http://www.montgomery.edu/students/admissions.html. Please email me for additional information.

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.