Shinrin-yoku - A new reason to soak in Louisville's metro parks [Fitness and health]

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Have you ever enjoyed forest bathing in one of our Metro Parks? Before you dial the LMPD tip line, forest bathing, also known as Shinrin-yoku, is walking through the forest and taking in all the sounds, smells, and Phytoncides. Subsequently, Shinrin-yoku seems to have both psychological and physiological benefits.

 

For some, living in our City of Parks is a double-edged sword, with so much surrounding nature bringing on the very Ohio Valley Crud that has them running indoors. But, what if avoiding natural places (allergies or not) does more harm than good?

 

In a series of studies, scientists in Japan have discovered that walking through a heavily treed area for several hours caused participants to lower cortisol (a stress hormone), and lower both pulse rates and blood pressure. Additionally, the volunteers enjoyed decreased hostility and depression, and increased liveliness. In one study, results concluded that stress levels were related to the magnitude of the shinrin-yoku effect, meaning the more stress a participant experienced, the greater the stress reduction from forest bathing.

 

Another study found a 50% hike in white blood cells, the immune system's killer cells, and at least in one study remained elevated for an entire week after the participates were exposed to Phytoncides.

 

If you want to reap the benefits of Shinrin-yoku, but can't take the pollen, Phytoncides (antimicrobal allelochemic volatile organic compounds) are given off by many plants, like spices, onion, garlic, tea tree, oak and pine trees. 

 

But, wait. Have you heard that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are dangerous? Plants that produce antimicrobal VOCs release the compounds to protect themselves from rotting or being eaten by pests. According to the Shinrin-yoku studies, natural sources of VOCs provide just enough reaction from our bodies to trigger increased immune function.

 

Phtyoncides are often used in Eastern medicine, holistic medicine, and aromatherapy, but you can make use of Phytocides just by stepping outside, gardening, and of course, strolling through our own Metro Parks.

 

Image: Jefferson Memorial Forest