Why You Should Go to the Woods

Spending time in the woods isn’t just pleasant, it is scientifically restorative.

True to our midwestern roots, at Getaway we try to avoid politics. The current political environment is about the farthest thing from our mission of allowing folks to disconnect from the daily grind of technology and work, and recharge in a natural, authentic, and simple way. Despite our best efforts to avoid the November melee, we couldn’t help but appreciate one thing: the first thing Hillary Clinton did after she lost the election. She went for a hike in the woods.

Unlike the political battlefield, a walk in the woods is hardly divisive. Most of us know the joy of taking a stroll down a quiet trail. For that time in the woods, time slows down just a tiny bit. You notice and appreciate the colors and the smells that are often lost in the white noise of life. You might have one of those conversations that really matter, but happen far too seldom, as you meander through the woods. If you’re lucky, that urge to clear your push notifications subsides, if just for a few minutes.

It turns out that walking in the woods isn’t just pleasant: it’s a scientifically supported way to find balance and feel better. Just looking at pictures of nature has been shown to calm “executive function” and allow emotion, pleasure, and empathy to take center stage. Going into nature captures your attention and instills in the nature-goer a “soft fascination” that distracts from life’s anxieties. It makes sense: humans have spent damn close to 100% of our existence living in nature. We’re just calmer there.

In Japan, it has become popular for doctors to prescribe what Hillary prescribed herself: a walk in the woods for shinrin’yoku, or “forest bathing.” It’s not a fringe thing: the Japanese government has certified 48 trails as medically effective swaths of tranquility. South Korea is following suit by opening a $140-million National Forest Therapy Center. Those countries’ national insurance programs are even beginning to cover the cost of forest bathing. Perhaps that’s because the preventative benefits that feel obvious when we walk in the woods are finding scientific backup: a recent study showed that folks bathing in the forest have lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, and lower cortisol levels than folks bathing in a city center.

If you find yourself still stressed out by the election (another scientifically-backed phenomenon), perhaps you’ll follow the advice of Qi Ling, one of the prominent scientists researching the effects of forest bathing: “If you have time for a vacation, don’t go to a city. Go to a natural area. Try to go one weekend a month.” If you do go, you might get a selfie with Hillary, but the real benefit won’t be external cred — it will be internal calm.

Originally published at medium.com

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