Forests, Phytoncides and You
We introduced some of the following concepts in our newsletters and blog posts in 2018. More research has come in, alerting us to the benefit of spending time in natural surroundings, particularly forests. Some scientists think that Phytoncides might be part of the reason.
Phytoncides are organic compounds produced by trees and plants to protect themselves from rotting and insects. They are part of the fragrance we associate with a forest. They have some antibacterial characteristics, and exposure to other plant secretions may offer even more health benefit.
Dr. Qing Li, an associate professor at the Nippon Medical School, and an immunologist, has been a leader in measuring the health effects of time in nature, particularly in forests, on the human body. With a large team of fellow researchers, he conducted a study in 2010 on a group of men, taking measurements of a number of immune system elements before and after time in a forest. He duplicated that study in 2018 with a group of women.
The key findings: the level of “NK” cells -natural killer cells which are part of the immune system that help control the spread of infections and some kinds of tumors- increased notably after a three-day/two-night stay in a forest, as did certain anti-cancer proteins.
From a classical medical research point of view, this isn’t easy to evaluate. Hard to quantify “dose to response” results. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend more time in natural surroundings. Every study finds some benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, slowing heart rate, and reducing stress and anxiety.
Forests, Nature and Health, Part II.
A more recent study conducted by researchers from The European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter found at least one way to measure the health benefits of time in Nature: that is, how much time do we need to spend to receive health benefits?
Matthew P. White, PhD, James Grellier, PhD, et al used information from a survey of just under 20,000 participants to assess feelings of good health and well-being. Those who spent 120-180 minutes per week in natural surroundings were 59% more likely to report good health, and 23% more likely to report well-being than those who spent no time outdoors.
The results were the same across age groups, and even among those with long-term health issues.
The results didn’t change whether or not the time was spent in one 120-180 minute session, or spread over the entire week.
Conclusion: Get outside!
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