Meet me in the woods: wellness as a walk among the woods and forests

Long walks in the woods have been recognised as a practice of preventative medicine in Japan for years. The positive effects that come from these walks are now becoming better known in the West too.
In this space, new age music, Yoga style crossed legs and movements coordinated by meditative discipline have nothing to do with it. Here you walk, in a forest. We enjoy nature, trees, the sounds of the forest and the smells of earth, bark, grass and dew. It is the reconnection with the universe that in Japan, for 36 years now, they have been calling Shinrin-Joku and that all over the world begins to be known as Forest Bathing. A bath in the forest, a purifying dive for the majority of whom live in various metropolises.

More than a trend, a practice of preventive wellness

It was 1982 when the Japan Forest Agency coined the term of what is now considered an important practice of preventive medicine at zero cost, with investments exceeding $10 million in research over the last ten years, academic studies in universities and design of dedicated tourism offers. Just to understand that in Japan Forest Bathing is much more than a wellness trend, with a map of 62 forests prepared by the  Forest Therapy SocietyHokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Horukiku-Koshinetsu, Tokai, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyusyu, Okinawa: these are the ten prefectures that host do-it-yourself therapeutic pathways or are followed by qualified instructors.
It’s about walking, breathing, observing, touching, smelling, without wearing a fitness tracker on your wrist to record burnt calories and steps. Thinking only of our body as part of nature that is able to self-generate itself. In contrast to the trend with the pharmaceutical table that any symptom is matched by a chemical substance for treatment, with the Forest Bathing there is no need for a prescription.
You just need to immerse yourself in cedars, redwoods, bamboo, millenary cherries, the incredible silver apricots of the biloba ginkgos and majestic camphor of which the trunks become legends and host the gods and which became a source of inspiration for the director Hayao Miyazaki in many of his animated films.
And yes, the healing effects are scientifically proven. Research carried out by the University of Chiba has shown that the levels of stress hormones, blood pressure and pulse rate in forest walks decreased in 300 students compared to walking in a city. The Kyoto University, in a similar study, recorded lower anxiety and depression-related indices. And the Nippon Medical School has put in black and white that the cells of the immune system (typically those that protect us from viruses and diseases, from classical influenza to tumours) get a higher score, they regenerate themselves day by day with Shinrin-Joku practice.

How do you feel about biophilia?

The list of benefits continues, as stated in the publication of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Walking in the woods is good for the cardiovascular system, preventing hypertension and coronary heart disease. It also protects the lung system from allergies and respiratory diseases. It increases the desire to express feelings such as gratitude and altruism, a positive effect on the parasympathetic nervous system that leads to a recovery of attention deficit and hyperactivity. Which then, translated into less scientific terms, means a programmed disconnection (even a few hours a week) from the hectic social activities in which every day we stay glued to smartphones and mobile devices.
This is what doctors in the published paper call biophilia, a biological attraction,"the man's innate tendency to focus his interest on life and vital processes", to quote Harvard Edward O. Wilson, the father of sociobiology. A need that mind, spirit and body nourish towards nature and that we unwittingly carry out also in the metropolises when we choose an urban park for lunch break, we come into contact with plants and flowers without realizing it, we prefer a natural material like wood in the choice of a place where to spend an evening.
Japanese studies are also confirmed on the western side, and reports at Stanford University produce the same equation: trees, nature and walks do well. So much so that there is a niche market linked to Forest Bathing with resorts and spas that among their activities offer paths through the woods: Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, Mohonk Mountain House in the state of New York, Lodge at Woodlock in Pennsylvania, Primland in Virginia. These are just a few of the most well-known organized structures in the States, where you can also take courses to become a certified guide by following a six-month training program at a cost of $3,410.
In Europe, England is the most active with websites dedicated to wellness therapy tourism. Forestholidays.co.uk offers themed holidays in Blackwood Forest (Hampshire) and Thorpe Forest, County Norfolk. Canopyandstars.co.uk and brings the overnight stay experience directly into tents or tree houses in Lanarkshire and Cornwall.
Austria even referred to a geographical area, the Federal forest bathing area in the Salzkammergut district.

And if you want to take a swim in the woods in italy?

In Italy there is certainly no shortage of wooded areas in which to freely practice walks in the woods.  However, there is only one to choose from with dozens of varieties of trees. Beeches, oaks and chestnut trees in the Parma Apennines. The high forest pines surrounding the natural lake of Flotscher Weiher in the Isarco Valley (Bolzano). Dwarf pine, larches and spruces in the Fanes Nature Park in South Tyrol. Pines, larch and maples in the I Giganti della Sila reserve in Calabria. In Piedmont, on the other hand, there is the most structured area of Oasi Zegna for those who want to dive into the Bosco del Sorriso, which is part of a protected mountain area of about 100 square kilometers between Triviero and Valle Cervo in Piedmont. Here the Forest Bathing (but also wellness wood, as can be read on the site) is recommended from June to September when pines, larch and beech trees give the best for the colours of the leaves: a 4.8 kilometre ring route with rest areas where you can read The forest fairy tales written on large wooden books.
. Marco Nieri and Marco Mencagli (agronomist) know something about this, who have monitored the electromagnetic activity of 16 plants and trees in the area and its positive effects on the physical and mental health of man, publishing the book The Secret Trees Therapy (Sperling & Kupfer).
Practicing Forest Bathing, researching the trees that interact with us on an energetic level is a step forward to return to feel ourselves an integral part of nature - explains Nieri, author of another text on the subject, Bioenergetic Landscape (Sistemi Editoriali) - contact with a natural environment has been the cradle of the evolution of the species. That's why in a country like Italy, where about 80 percent of the population lives in urban and intermediate areas and only 20 in rural contexts, it is necessary to go beyond the commonplace that "nature is good", trying to understand and recognize that there are places and situations in which nature really does well. That there are tree species that emit more monotherapenes than others, the substances underlying the results of the forest therapy of Japanese studies. There are paths that complement the beneficial characteristics of trees with architecture and landscape views, spaces of interest for health with positive effects on three channels: physiological, energetic and emotional. In short, walking and exploring a forest that has particular biological characteristics reduces negative effects faster.
Effectively stress and depression, lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Three days can offer great benefits, just four hours a day in the forest, alternating walks and stops along the paths to produce health effects that remain for a long time. If you don't have three days, 5 kilometres travelled in the beech forest in 4 hours will still trigger a sensitive response.

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