Finding your green scene

It’s time to get your dose of greens!  And no, I don’t mean the edible leafy greens (although those are excellent for you too).  This week, I’m taking a break from nutrition posts to talk about groundbreaking scientific research showing that green spaces ‘communicate’ with our bodies and have immense health benefits.

The post was inspired during a hike with my friend Lindsay.

As I was walking through the forest on Bowen Island and inhaling its rich earthy smell, I commented to my friend Lindsay about how great it felt to be in the woods.

Lindsay is a landscaper and is also training as a horticultural therapist.  As part of the horticultural therapy program, she is interning at a hospital where she helps elderly patients grow plants and interact with nature.

Lindsay responded by telling me about a host of research studies showing the benefits of spending time in green spaces.  One of her comments that really stood out to me was that trees secrete chemicals that interact with our bodies and support the immune system.

I was absolutely amazed – it seemed like something out of the movie Avatar, where there is a network of communication between the living forest and moving beings.

I did some more research into the phenomenon and found that when we breathe the forest air, we are actually inhaling wood essential oils called phytoncides, which the trees release to protect them against rotting and insects.

It turns out that our body also reacts to these essential oils in a good way, by increasing the activity of immune cells, specifically the natural killer cells. The so called killer cells are aptly named as they terminate cells infected with tumors and viruses in the body. Going on a day trip to the forest has been shown to increase the immune response for one week after the trip outdoors.

Some of the other benefits of spending time in the great outdoors include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood
  • Increased energy
  • Increased ability to focus

Much of the recent research on the health benefits of spending time outdoors has come from Japan, where almost 70% of the land is covered in forest. Spending time in the forest is a popular practice called “shrinrin-yoku”, which means “forest bathing”.

Here in beautiful British Columbia, we are also fortunate to have abundant access to beautiful parks and green spaces.

Unfortuately, some people, particularly the elderly, may be hospital bound and cannot easily send time in the forest. Thankfully, we have people like Lindsay who work with patients in a hospital setting to bring green spaces and activities to them.

This approach is backed by research which shows that spending time in therapeutic gardens or even having a view of nature from a window, can improve patient health and recovery.

So whether you are fortunate enough to be able to move freely through the great outdoors or have more limited mobility – we can all benefit from getting in touch with nature.

What will you do this summer to spend more time in green spaces?