Is nature good for your health?
Interesting facts about the healing power of the forest
Anyone who goes into the forest feels it instinctively: the forest is good for you. But why is it like that? Scientists around the world are studying this question. What is certain is that forest air contains 90 percent fewer dust particles than city air. And that it contains substances that have a positive effect on our health.
"Forest strengthens our immune system"
The Austrian biologist and book author Clemens Arvay collects international research results on the effects of the forest on our health. He is convinced: "The forest helps us against depression, against psychological stress and burnout. But it also strengthens our immune system, can protect us from serious chronic diseases and even from heart attacks."
Even the sight of the forest is good for you
One of the earliest studies on the health effects of the forest appeared in 1984 in the science magazine "Science". Accordingly, the sight of trees alone has a measurably positive effect. Patients who looked out of the hospital window into the green after an operation recovered faster than those who only looked at a house wall. The tree-eyed patients also needed less pain medication.
A large study by environmental psychologist Marc Berman at the University of Chicago in 2015 came to a similar conclusion: the fewer trees there are in a residential area, the higher the risk of typical lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular weakness, high blood pressure or diabetes.
A walk in the forest has a calming effect
British researchers have also shown that exercise in the forest also improves mood and reduces stress.
The diverse sensory impressions, such as the chirping of birds and the smell of pine needles, stimulate the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, says Clemens Arvay. "This is an important part of our nervous system that is responsible for recovery and regeneration down to the cellular level." It is known that in hectic city life the antagonist of the parasympathetic, the sympathetic, is very active. "And that's why we modern humans need this forest as a balance."
Does forest air also protect against cancer?
During a walk in the forest, we breathe in substances that plants use to exchange messages with each other - so-called terpenes. They strengthen our immune system. For a study by the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, the researchers quartered twelve test persons in a hotel. In one half, the breathing air was enriched with a mix of forest air during the night. The next day, the blood samples from precisely these participants showed a significantly higher number and activity of the body's own killer cells. A groundbreaking discovery for the head of the study, Professor Qing Li. "My experiment showed that the terpenes stimulate immune cells, like natural killer cells, and that increases the effectiveness of the immune function," he says. The pioneer of forest medicine hopes that the power of the trees may even prevent cancer. "Maybe in the future doctors can prescribe the forest as medicine," he says.
"Forest bathing" as preventive health care
In Japan, forest visits have even been part of preventive health care for years. The term "Shinrin-yoku" means "forest bathing" and is a Japanese tradition. In 2012 Japanese universities even set up their own research branch for "forest medicine".
"Trees have a rich social life"
In Germany, the forester and bestselling author Peter Wohlleben deals with the forest and its effect on people. For him, trees are more than just suppliers of wood and oxygen: "In reality, trees are very fascinating creatures with a very rich social life. There is a lot going on that we cannot see that easily because trees are so slow."
Do trees have feelings?
According to Wohlleben, trees have memories and feelings. They live with families, make friends and exchange messages with one another, for example about scents that contain the terpenes. In addition, trees could send electrical information through their roots and even warn each other of dangers such as harmful beetles.
Get to know and protect the forest
Wohlleben's statements are popular, but they meet with criticism from natural scientists because they consider the assumptions to be unscientific. But the forester is certain that the forest is a kind of medicine because of its special climate. "The blood pressure goes down, you become more relaxed, especially when this is an intact forest." His appeal: people should get to know the forest better and protect it. After all, they needed him urgently - also for their health.
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Know more - live better | 04/02/2020 | 3:15 p.m.
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