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The Green Rx

Forests keep us healthy.

Research at University of Edinburgh, Scotland monitored daily circadian fluctuations in the hormone "cortisol." Researcher Catharine Ward Thompson reported residents living in close proximity to natural areas and parks were less anxious. The stress hormone cortisol cycled more uniformly than in those without access to open space.  Daily cortisol fluctuations are healthy. But in individuals suffering depression or post-traumatic stress disorders, these cycles flatten. In another series of studies, Japanese researchers explored relationships between access to nature and fresh air during a brisk walk by taking urban dwellers into a forest. The Japanese practice of “Shinrin-yoku” or literally “forest bathing” resulted in lowered blood pressure in participants. Health practitioners report more rapid patient healing when hospital windows afford natural light and views to adjacent green spaces or daily access to natural settings. Even placing living plants in clinical settings produced positive therapeutic results and faster healing rates.

If human health research conclusions are accurate, the unfurling of gazillions of leafy green pennants heralds a corresponding spike in human happiness. Trees and forests yield calm, healthy responses to daily stress.

Springtime provides a universal health care prescription! Foliage may be the most ancient and affordable balm for our collective regional mental health – but only if we partake. To gain these health benefits, we must immerse ourselves in our forests.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.
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