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Medicine Earth Science

'Forest Bathing' Considered Healthful 252

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that although allergies and the promise of air-conditioning tend to drive people indoors at this time of year, when people spend time in more natural surroundings — forests, parks, and other places with plenty of trees — they experience increased immune function. A study of 280 healthy people in Japan, where visiting nature parks for therapeutic effect has become a popular practice called 'Shinrin-yoku,' or 'forest bathing,' found that being among plants produced 'lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure,' among other things. Another study in 2007 showed that men who took two-hour walks in a forest over two days had a 50-percent spike in levels of natural killer cells, and a third study found an increase in white blood cells that lasted for a week in women exposed to phytoncides in forest air."
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'Forest Bathing' Considered Healthful

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  • Duh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jridley ( 9305 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:26AM (#32824430)

    I grew up on a farm, and the only people who had air conditioning were living in town. I didn't even know what allergies were; none of my friends or anyone in their family had them, until I started making friends with people who lived in town and had air conditioning and super clean houses. THEY had allergies.

  • Re:Breaking news (Score:4, Interesting)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:29AM (#32824466) Journal

    Also helps allergies:

    I've read several studies in Science News that show exposing allergic bodies to the outdoors "trains" the immune system to ignore things like pollen, dust, and so on as simply part of the natural environment.

  • by Hodapp ( 1175021 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:33AM (#32824514)

    No. I even re-read the summary about 10 times in a row, trying to figure out what exactly was harmful about forest bathing.

  • Re:Duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:34AM (#32824522)
    Exactly! One theory is that the prevalence of allergies in modern times is a result of our "super clean" environments around us. The body's immune system has nothing to fight off, so instead it starts attacking even the most benign invaders -- any little bit of pollen or something it hasn't encountered before. The result of this is allergic reactions to nearly anything and everything out there. And those reactions are only getting worse as time goes on (i.e., the preponderance of peanut allergies in children).
  • by Rooked_One ( 591287 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:39AM (#32824570) Journal
    In the Midwest, our forests are just plain nasty... I would be surprised if the Japanese have anything close to ragweed. My family is originally from up north, so we are all allergic to this, but correlation does not blah blah blah

    .I wonder if they have to worry about ticks, with all the fun stuff they carry, as well over there on that island. I'm thinking the plant life just might be different. I grew up playing in a greenbelt full of poison ivy and ragweed, along with scrub trees that put off that layer of pollen that will cover your car, so after RTA, I can't say which side of the coin I prefer I'm afraid.
  • by GoooF ( 135436 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:48AM (#32824682)

    Vitamin D is a very potent vitamin which the body only can produce in direct exposure of sunlight and is stored in the fat of the body.
    It also exist in a small range of foods.
    The problem is when you don't get any exposure of sunlight and you don't eat any food which contain vitamin D.

    Vitamin D deficiency has been seen to result in a wide range of consequences such as Osteomalacia, Rickets, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease, depression and low immune defence. []

    As you all know old people mostly cover up their body to not get cold, which in result leads to very little sun exposure.

    I am not saying it is an universal cure, but I wonder if it can have a connection??

  • Thank you geocaching (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wandazulu ( 265281 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:58AM (#32824772)

    While going for a walk in the woods for its own sake is great, it's hard to convince the family and friends, sometimes, that what they really want to do is put down the remote and go for a long nature hike. This is where geocaching is so great; the kids think of it as "searching for treasure", and my friends have taken up the various challenges with excitement ("how are we going to cross the river?" "How are we going to get down from this ciff", etc. Whereas I could never convince them to go before, once there's a challenge, something to find, out there, they're all for it.

    My personal satisfaction came from the fact that two of my friends were so angry about being left behind, or just struggling to keep up in general, that they both quit smoking.

  • Bullshit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:59AM (#32824790)

    I grew up on a farm, and the only people who had air conditioning were living in town. I didn't even know what allergies were; none of my friends or anyone in their family had them, until I started making friends with people who lived in town and had air conditioning and super clean houses. THEY had allergies.

    Your unscientific anecdote is negated by my own equally unscientific anecdote:

    I grew up in a small farming village, a tiny population in a state with one of the lowest levels of air pollution, with no air conditioning whatsoever. I had absolutely terrible allergies, up to and including asthma, eyes glued shut due to "sleep" (secretions), and the need for serious medicine that didn't really help much.

    The best thing I ever did was move to a city, get air conditioning, and stay the fuck away from the grass, trees, and other foliage that made my life a living hell. I didn't get allergies from living in the city as you so erroneously imply, I got them from being exposed to pollen in the first place, and short of paving the planet, a large city with relatively little green space is in my experience an ideal environment for those who suffer from Hay Fever, pollution notwithstanding.

  • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by M. Baranczak ( 726671 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @09:14AM (#32824976)

    Seems that your allergies are making your posting finger twitchy - or there's a glitch in Slashdot.

    My great-grandmother grew up in a farming village. There was a group of people who would always get colds around harvest-time; they were widely suspected of being malingerers, but she realized much later that they just had seasonal allergies.

  • by JakFrost ( 139885 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @09:32AM (#32825192)

    Eastern Europe - Outdoor Active Lifestyle

    I grew up in a very polluted coal mining and burning part of eastern Europe and all of us kids spend their entire time outside, except for a few hours of sleeping, parents calling us to come in for dinner, which we would promptly eat and then leave again to play with friends, and the few hours a day that we would be required to be in school, but even then we would have two breaks and lunch which we would spend outside playing. Even during cold and rainy days we would be outside doing stuff with out friends, meeting up under various try spots that we knew outside. There was no air conditioning and I didn't see anyone suffering from any type of allergies or asthma that I remember but I do remember a few sickly kids that would spend their time indoors.

    Our apartment complex in the big city was covered with busy roads and tons cars and commercial traffic, we even had an actual a coal burning plant which would create the hot water for the entire housing compound right in the middle of the apartment complex and we even occasionally venture next to it to play war around there among the dumped burned off toxic leftover coke byproduct of coal burning. However, at the same time our apartment complex was next to a huge park, a farm, and with tons of trees littering the paths between the apartment buildings and throughout the city between every single street. You could walk large parts of the city during light rain and hardly get any wet just by walking under the trees!

    During each 2-month Summer vacation and 3-week or longer Winter vacation my mother would always arrange for me to go on the company sponsored camping and I would then spend weeks at a time away in the mountain and forest areas playing outdoors even more with kids and then go on hikes and outdoor tent camping events on top of being outside. We never did any indoor activities unless it was raining and even then we would find excuses to run outside and get soaking we just for fun. I spend more time getting dirty among nature as a kid then I care to remember.

    United States - Sedentary Indoor Lifestyle

    When I came to the United States later I found that most kids stayed in-doors most of the time and hardly went outside. Being an immigrant child I kept to my roots and hung out with my own kid friends spending our entire summers outside in the parks and going away on lake and camping trips on the weekends with family. The Summer and Winter camps here turned out to cost a lot more money and since they were not sponsored by my mother's work I couldn't afford to go. I tried to spend a much time as possible outside in the summer playing basketball and football with whatever friends were left in the city but since many of them went away I became sedentary and gained weight, then started spending a lot more time at the computer than I should have which in turn decreased my ability to go outside and enjoy myself.

    Now that I move out to another part of the country where there is a lot more outdoor activities I am getting myself involved in outdoor type events so that I can get back to being in nature. Airsoft has become my newest outdoor hobby and I just love the idea of literally crawling through thick woods with a replica gun just to shoot at people and have fun outside while hugging and blending in with the nature. I came out filthy as a dog from that weekend excursion but I was hooked!

    When I have kids I will guarantee that they spend their entire time outside doing activities and go away every Summer and Winter vacation to camps, no matter what I have to sacrifice for myself to afford the cost. I want my kids to be familiar with nature and be comfortable being in the woods like I was.

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @11:24AM (#32826840)
    There is a discipline called "medical anthropology" which studies the traditional medicine of various cultures and how it interacts with modern medicine. EVERY culture still more or less has its folk medicine: Examples include British interest in colonics (read about Kellog's push to eat grain in the morning), the French and their livers, Germans and their hearts, Indians and meditation, Chinese and acupuncture and so on. And scientists from each culture have conducted medical studies their favorite aspect of folk medicine. To me, most of these studies are inconclusive. Thatis, some benefits, little harm, and not the cure-all promoters were seeking.
  • Truth via anecdotal: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AnAdventurer ( 1548515 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @11:35AM (#32827020)
    After living a year in the jungle I returned to Anchorage, Alaska in October just as the ground was starting to freeze. I was feeling a little down and the feeling didn't go away as the snow came, the temps dropped and the daylight waned. In February I looked up sometime around midday and proclaimed "I miss dirt". I know I need to be out there. I feel so much better when I am in the field and afterwards as well. Of course I may be a geek, tech savvy or whatnot, but I am no city boy. I grew up in the redwoods, even lived in a teepee when I was a kid (my dad never owned a computer in his life) and I am more comfortable sitting in the bush then I am sitting at my computer. Life forced my hand so I am forced to do the tech work for my company, but I still get to do the field work too and I swear it gets me a little high (not just the work, the being outside), it lasts for weeks. Sometimes if there is no field work to be done I will drive south until I get to the ocean and find a place with no snow and go lay in the woods on the dirt. Just to be clear, I am no hippy-dippy freak.
  • by fritsd ( 924429 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @11:45AM (#32827164) Journal
    Careful.. it's just after Midsommar.. could be a disguised Nixie [] instead!
  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @12:33PM (#32827842) Homepage Journal

    But regardless of where we lived, we were around a lot more Natural Stuff. Building materials in relatively raw form, draft animals and their effluvient, street vermin (rats, roaches, etc) and their parasites, basic unprocessed foods complete with whatever contaminants nature (or manure fertilizer) saw fit to distribute.

    I expect a similar finding would result from examining people who spend a lot of time out in any fairly natural environment, exposed to Natural Stuff that in one way or another acts as an immune stimulant.

  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @01:05PM (#32828326) Homepage Journal

    You grew up as a NORMAL kid, as did I. This coccooned-child thing in the U.S. has only been around for the last 20-25 years, and I agree entirely, it is a bad thing. Kids need to go outside, get dirty, and learn to create their own entertainment, instead of having it thrust upon them.

    And on that note, I recall research about how kids learn: seems learning isn't absorbed and processed during the "work" periods, but rather only during the "idle" periods, when kids are just being kids. So this "go outside, root in the mud, and generally do nothing useful" is not useless at all, but rather quite necessary to normal learning.

    Likely just as true for adults, tho often ignored (maybe that explains why adults have a harder time learning than kids do??) I've found for myself that for every hour doing something Useful, I need an hour of decompression -- go outside and pull weeds, or watch ants, or do something equally "natural" and nominally useless.

  • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @01:59PM (#32828912) Journal

    I've pulled two ticks off me in the last week alone. Big deal. They're nasty little things, but I haven't known anyone who's ever actually gotten a disease from one. I'm pretty sure the risk is way overstated.

    Depends on what part of the country you're from.

    Here in NJ (also in NY, CT, and some other states) Lyme disease is super common. I've had it four times, the second time as a kid I got no bullseye rash and it went undiagnosed for two years... I have some paralysis on the left side of my face (Bell's Palsy) and joint problems because of it -- never mind the treatments for depression that took me several years to get over (in any patient, it's hard to say if the Lyme Disease caused the depression... but aggregate among Lyme sufferers, there is a huge increase in incidence of depression and related conditions).

    I could easily rattle off at least a dozen of my closer acquaintances who've had it, and every member of my immediate family has had it, as well as most of my extended family.

    The ticks that tend to carry Lyme disease aren't those wood ticks that you feel crawling on you, and can spot easily from a couple yards away on a pant leg. They tend to be the size of poppy seeds.

    Oh, I also got RMSF from a tick when I was fishing in eastern Washington State.

    Count yourself lucky if tick-borne illnesses are rare where you live. They are no joke where I live. And staying on the path won't necessarily help you, *especially* in a park, where the woodland-fringe type habitat is often so carefully preserved. If you really want to prevent tick-borne illness, wear white socks, light-colored pants that you tuck into the socks, and use DEET on your socks, shoes and pants. When you come back inside, check yourself carefully for ticks. It's best to have someone else check the parts you have trouble seeing (one of my Lyme disease outbreaks was from a tick that burrowed it's head into my hairy asscrack -- no way I could see it myself)

    Re: poison ivy (and oak and sumac)-- learn to recognize it. It's very easy to identify and avoid.

    Tick-borne illnesses are a real threat in certain parts of the country. Don't dismiss the risk if you're in an area with high prevalence if you're the type who spends time outdoors.

"Well, social relevance is a schtick, like mysteries, social relevance, science fiction..." -- Art Spiegelman