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Research on Forest Therapy vs. Urban Stress

Health effects of forest therapy are being researched and measured in Japan.

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Yoshifumi Miyazaki, director of the Center for Environment Health and Field Sciences at Chiba University, is Japan's leading scholar on forest medicine who has been conducting physiological experiments to examine whether forests can make people feel at ease.

Stress Hormone Reduction from Forest Therapy

He found that the average concentration of salivary cortisol, a stress hormone, in people who gazed on forest scenery for 20 minutes was 13.4 percent lower than that of people in urban settings, Miyazaki said.

This means that forests can lower stress and make people feel at ease, he said, noting that findings in other physiological experiments, including fluctuations in heart beats and blood pressure, support this conclusion.

Immune System Results from Forest Therapy

Taking a walk in a forest, or "forest bathing" as it is sometimes called, can strengthen the immune system, according to Li Qing, a senior assistant professor of forest medicine at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo.

Forest therapy for immune-compromised patients may be developed within a few years.

Inhale Essential Wood Oils During Forest Therapy

Li said the increase in NK activity can be attributed partly to inhaling air containing phytoncide, or essential wood oils given off by plants.

Miyazaki of Chiba University said forests gratify the five senses by providing the sounds of birds, cool air, green leaves, the touch of trees, wild plants and grasses.

Calming Response to Forests

"The atmosphere of forests makes people calm," he said.

Based on studies on the effects of forests, the public and private sectors are now promoting forest therapy.

Certified Forests and Afforestation Designate Forest Therapy Bases

The Forest Therapy Executive Committee, a group of researchers, other intellectuals and the government-affiliated National Land Afforestation Promotion Organization, started officially recognizing certain forests by granting the designations of Forest Therapy Base and Forest Therapy Road in 2006. The titles are given to forests that have been found by researchers through scientific evidence to have relaxing effects.

At the Akazawa Natural Recreation Forest in Agematsu, Nagano Prefecture, which was recognized as a forest therapy base in 2006, visitors can get free medical checkups among Japanese cypress trees on Thursdays. The forest is known as the Japanese birthplace of the concept of forest bathing in 1982.

"Some people like broadleaf forests and others prefer forests of conifer trees like hinoki cypress that give off a strong aroma," Miyazaki said. "I hope people try to find a forest that suits their tastes and visit them from time to time."

Japan's Forest Therapy Bases and Roads

For more information about Forest Therapy Bases and Roads, (in Japanese) visit forest-therapy.jp

For the full story in English, go to Forest Therapy

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| health | urban planning |

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