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Improve your well-being in the great outdoors

Mom frequently yelled at us kids, “Go outside and plant a garden! Breathe in some fresh air, and get those cobwebs out of your heads!”

“Are there spiders in our heads?” we wondered.

Anecdotally, it is a common understanding that outdoor activities and immersing ourselves in nature are good for us. It gives us a chance to be physically active and helps reduce stress.

Cyrus the Great, known as the “Good Gardener,” built beautiful, lush gardens in the crowded urban capital of Persia over 2,500 years ago to help improve human health and promote a sense of calm in the busy city.

Paracelsus, a 16th century German-Swiss physician and alchemist who established the role of chemistry stated, “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.”

Thus, the concept of nature and well-being have been around a long time. Activities such as gardening or simply walking through a forest while engaging all our senses have been studied for its beneficial effects.

Coining the term “shinrin yoku” in 1982, the Japanese government was influenced by ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices of letting nature into your body through all five senses.

The English translation of “forest bathing” is often used in the United States to describe a strategy to help reduce stress through engagement with nature whether it is gardening, walking through the woods or even beach walking.

According to Miyazaki, a Japanese scientist who has studied the science of immersing oneself in nature, concluded, “Throughout our evolution, we’ve spent 99.9 percent of our time in nature. Our physiology is still adapted to it. During everyday life, a feeling of comfort can be achieved if our rhythms are synchronized with those of the environment.”

Many of these concepts are detailed in the book “The Nature Fix” by Florence Williams.

Indeed, physiological and psychological studies have found that gardening and leisurely forest walks, when compared to urban activities, result in a significant decline in blood cortisol levels as well as a decrease in sympathetic nerve activities (which governs the fight or flight responses).

Our blood pressures drop, and heart rate decreases too. We are in better moods and not as anxious. When you go for a walk or immerse yourself into the woods, you relax more and do not worry about danger or stress.

Overall, we feel better after a nice walk through the woods or when we work in our gardens. It makes sense since we feel at home with nature because we evolved there.

So, heed your mom’s advice: Get outside and grow a garden or at least start planning for this spring.

And, take time to enjoy nature. It’ll be a great New Year’s resolution!

To learn more and watch a video with an expert, visit http://go.osu.edu/forestbathing.

Dwinnells is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer trainee.

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