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Posted on February 11, 2015 at 12:02 AM

It’s a challenging time of year for those of us living in
the snowbound regions of North America. Cold temperatures limit outdoor
activity to quick spurts broken up by the need to get warm and sunshine can be
hard to come by. Ground hogs are disrupted from their morning naps every Feb. 2
to see if warmer days will be welcomed back sooner rather than later. We yearn
for the return of leafy trees, green grass, and less slippery walkways. Science
has taken an interest in just what we gain from exposure to nature, and it
seems there is more to it than simply wishing winter a glad farewell.
  Though we may consider it common sense that
people feel better when they get outdoors, breathe fresh air, and spend time in
green spaces filled with grass and trees, there is a growing body of literature
to back it up.

According to the NYS Department of Environmental
Conservation
 
spending time in forests makes us healthier. 
The noted benefits include: boosts immunity, reduces stress, lowers
blood pressure and improves mood, helps with focus and concentration, increases
energy, and improves sleep. “Recognizing those benefits, in 1982, the Japanese
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries even coined a term for it:
shinrin-yoku. It means taking in the forest atmosphere or “forest
bathing
,” and the ministry encourages people to visit forests to relieve
stress and improve health”
.
It seems they are onto something important here. Rx: Forest time.

But why? One study suggests that as humans we respond to the
color green itself in some primitive way that enhances our cognitive state. In
this study, participants simulated exercise in a forest with a video that was
either unaltered, red tinted, or grayscale. Those with the unaltered video (the
most green) had less mood disruption. The results suggest that perhaps part of
the effect is due to the green coloring of forest foliage (Visual color perception in
green exercise
). Another study found similar results related to green
exercise and self-esteem (Green Exercise, Mood and
Self-Esteem
).

The take away here is that we need to get outside and
encourage others to do so, too. Outdoor exercise is good for us physically and
mentally. It is the characteristics of the natural woodsy outdoor setting that
helps us simply feel better, for reasons we are beginning to understand with
increasing clarity. Whether or not the groundhog got it right this year, I for
one will be making an effort to spend more time in green spaces this year to
reap these benefits. How about you?

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

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