Though we all know that spending time outdoors is good for you, it’s long been hard to explain exactly why.
To settle the matter, researchers at Nippon Medical School have dug up rock-solid evidence of how natural surroundings can benefit your health. In an initial study, the researchers observed that ambling in leafy environments reduces stress and blood pressure far more effectively than walks in urban settings. For anyone who has dodged traffic and battled through the 5pm scrum in Oxford Circus, that will hardly be a surprise.
But the study goes further. While examining the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (a phrase that roughly translates as “forest bathing”), the researchers noticed that there were lower rates of cancer in more densely forested regions. Even after adjusting for factors such as wealth or smoking, the incidence of gut, prostate and kidney cancer among men was significantly lower in areas where woods were easily accessible.
What’s more, the researchers now have a good idea of how trees confer this protection. Plants emit antimicrobial compounds called phytoncides that protect them against animals, insects and micro-organisms. These substances are completely odourless and tasteless, but they provoke a useful response in our immune system when we breathe them in. The research pinpointed a rise in the number of natural killer cells, which seek out and destroy tumour cells, after people spent time among trees – as well as an increase in the amount of intracellular anticancer proteins – with the effects lasting a full week.
So, if you’re rooted in the urban jungle, for the good of your health, it’s time you turned over a new leaf.
Target these common problems with a dose of the great outdoors.
Monitoring blood sugar works, but time in nature also lowers your risk of diabetes. University of East Anglia
Cyclists shown green video footage trained harder than those who saw grey. Environmental Science & Technology
Listening to a playlist of nature sounds can improve your mood and facilitate mindfulness. Scientific Reports
Trapped in the big city? Outdoor activities can reduce your risk of myopia (near-sightedness). Opthalmology
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