Forests are good for you

You may have your own reasons for spending time in the great outdoors, besides camping in our national forests, such as hiking, bird and wildlife watching, canoe and kayak paddling, mushroom collecting, or snoozing under a shady tree next to a gurgling mountain stream.

But Anahad O’Connor, writing for the New York Times, reports that “. . . spending more time in nature might have some surprising health benefits. In a series of studies, scientists found that when people swap their concrete confines for a few hours in more natural surroundings — forests, parks and other places with plenty of trees — they experience increased immune function.”

The studies go on to explain that other than reducing the stress factor, plants emit airborne chemicals called “phytoncides” that, although helping protect them from rotting and insects, they also seem to benefit human health.

The Japanese even have a name for visiting nature, “Shinrin-yoku,” or “forest bathing.” Those that spent a few hours walking among plants and trees produced “lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure,” among other things.

O’Connor goes on to write, “A number of other studies have shown that visiting parks and forests seems to raise levels of white blood cells, including one in 2007 in which men who took two-hour walks in a forest over two days had a 50-percent spike in levels of natural killer cells. And another found an increase in white blood cells that lasted a week in women exposed to phytoncides in forest air.”

That’s all good news for those of us that like to boondock and camp in our national forests. In addition to the obvious pleasures, it is also good for our health. And today, there just aren’t too many pleasures that are both free and also good for us.

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