Japan's Forest Therapy tracks healing powers of forests

Redwood I from Steven Poe on Vimeo.

Outside Magazine recently featured this fascinating story about Japan's forest therapy:

...we were on one of Japan’s 48 official Forest Therapy trails, designated for shinrin-yoku by Japan’s Forestry Agency. In an effort to benefit the Japanese and find nonextractive ways to use forests, which cover 67 percent of the country’s landmass, the government has funded about $4 million in forest-bathing research since 2004. It intends to designate a total of 100 Forest Therapy sites within 10 years. Visitors here are routinely hauled off to a cabin where rangers measure their blood pressure, part of an effort to provide ever more data to support the project.

The science is convincing, as well:

In 2005 and 2006, Li brought a group of middle-aged Tokyo businessmen into the woods. For three days, they hiked in the morning and again in the afternoon. By the end, blood tests showed that their NK cells had increased 40 percent. A month later, their NK count was still 15 percent higher than when they started. By contrast, during urban walking trips, NK levels didn’t change.

Since most of us can’t spend three days a week walking in the woods, Li was curious to know if a one-day trip to a suburban park would have a similar effect. It did, boosting the levels of both NK cells and anticancer proteins for at least seven days afterward.

It should be self-evident that walking in a nature can be a pleasurable experience, but in our data-driven capitalistic society, benefits such as relaxation or stress relief are up against the financial profits that could come from harvesting forests or depleting nature. That's why I love this story and the Forest Therapy project. By focusing on the science and tracking data to prove the nonextractive benefits of forests, these scientists and hikers are helping prove what we should already understand: That nature is worth preserving.

There is so much more to this story, so I highly encourage you to read the entire thing. Then go outside and leave your phone behind.

Video: Redwood I is an enchanting time lapse video shot in California's Redwood forest.

Tags: Conservation | Forestry | Japan

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