Daily Prompt: Hike
There is no greater peace for me than disappearing into the woods on a hike. I’ve mentioned my forest walks on my twinkly list. The deeper into the woods I go – away from cars, noise, reminders of the city – the better. John Muir wrote, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” I like to think it’s the direct line to yourself, or your true north.
A while ago, I read an article about “forest bathing” or “Shinrin-Yoku.” This concept was developed in the 80s in Japan as a means to promote mental and physical well being. Studies have shown that just a couple of minutes in a forest improves mood and energy, reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. This concept of “nature feels good” certainly isn’t novel. We’ve all experienced it. What I found most interesting was why being in the forest also boosts your immune system. When we breathe in fresh air in the forest, we breathe in phytochemicals that plants emit to protect against insects, bacteria and fungi. Our bodies respond to these chemicals by increasing the number and activity of white blood cells called natural killer cells, which in turn kill virus-infected cells in our bodies. Pretty amazing. Other studies have shown that walks in nature decrease anxiety and rumination, which is highly associated with depression. I now had a scientific explanation for why my hikes in the woods left me feeling centered and calm.
I recently discovered many more of my local forest preserve’s trails and lakes. I’m not sure why I hadn’t ventured out before this summer. Habit, I suppose. Proximity. I’m making an effort to visit them all and get my weekly dose of phytochemicals.