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Forest bathing is nature’s prescription for you

August 14, 2019 - 11:00 am

By Rasa Kaye

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 93% of his or her life indoors: 87% in a building of some kind, then another 6% in automobiles.  

The overwhelming majority of us spend only 7% of our entire life outdoors, a totality of just half of one day per week. 

No wonder, then, that taking care of the planet has been such a low priority for so many. We don’t get up close and personal with it very often.

Soapbox aside, getting outside is increasingly recognized by medical experts as a way to take care of you. It’s called nature therapy or, sometimes, eco-therapy: a broad group of techniques or treatments with the intention of improving mental or physical health, within nature or outdoor surroundings.

It can be what they jokingly call “vitamin sea” at the Jersey shore, or what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku, which translates as “forest bathing.”

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Melissa Romero, communications and engagement assistant for the Fairmount Park Conservancy, is a fan of forest bathing and urges Philly residents to avail themselves of the acres of woodland blocks away from Center City.

“It doesn’t have to be a hidden forest or anything — just getting outdoors for an easy hike or relaxing on a shady park bench for a bit,” she said. “There’s research that shows how immersing yourself in the outdoors for even short periods is good for your mental health and physical well-being, and forest bathing is one way to reap those benefits.”

According to the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, the natural chemicals secreted by evergreen trees, collectively known as phytoncides, are immune system boosters. Your infection-fighting system also gets a bounce when a relaxed nature walk lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Take two hours in the woods and call me in the morning!

“In a meta-analysis of 10 studies on the effects of different types of green exercise on a variety of populations, the authors found that getting outside — and moving — for as little as five minutes at a time improved both mood and self-esteem,” according to Robin Mejia in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology.

Surrounded by Olney, Lawncrest, Feltonville, Northwood, Juniata and Frankford, Tacony Creek Park offers a dramatic atmospheric shift from the urban crush around it.

“The park is very steep. It’s sort of dropped below the grid of the city,” Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership Executive Director Julie Slavet explained. “Once you get in the park, it’s really quiet. You get away from the sounds of the city and hear the birds, the water, the wind in the trees, and we know that it lowers blood pressure and lowers heart rate.

“We know that the ZIP codes around the park have very poor health outcomes, so whatever healthy benefits getting out in the park can provide are very important. We want people who live there to do trail and park bathing through nature walks and fitness walks and bird walks in the park.”

So, are you ready to take a dip into forest bathing?

The Bucks County Audubon Society at Honey Hollow in New Hope is hosting a guided forest therapy walk on Aug. 25. Wild Philadelphia is also hosting an event on Sept. 15 in Fairmount Park.

Jacques Cousteau once said, "People protect what they love." Forest bathing is an excellent way to love on your local greenspace, and to indulge in a little self-love at the same time.