Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Get Outside, Doctor's Orders
There’s a term in Japanese — shirin-yoku — that translates as “bathing in the forest air”. Spending time in natural surroundings, such as a forest, influences a wide range of stress markers and physiology. Stress hormones and heart rate go down, immune systems and mood improve. Researchers from one study concluded that “shirin-yoku can effectively relax both people’s body and spirit.”
Dr. Logan concurs. “No matter what the stress, nature can undo it.”
Not surprisingly for a region whose traditional architecture seamlessly blends indoor and outdoor spaces, scientists in Japan are leading the research charge. But North Americans are picking it up. The science is accumulating like fat fluffy snowflakes.
For instance, researchers at Carlton University in Ottawa, a city gripped in winter’s clutches for six months out of a year, compared walking outdoors through green spaces with walking through weatherproof underground tunnels. While walkers underground were spared the season’s whims, walkers outside felt — and performed — better in terms of their mood and thinking.
“People do say they feel better in nature,” says Dr. Logan. “These studies just confirm what we already knew.”

But in contrast, he says, “green exercise” — i.e. exercise outdoors, in natural spaces,creates and maintains motivation. ”It elevates your mood and you’re effectively ‘out of your head’.”
Not only that, exercise in natural surroundings can improve performance. One early study compared novice runners on a wooded running path versus a plain open track. Runners were simply asked to run at any pace they chose. Runners in the woods ran faster.
“In the wooded environment, the runners felt better. They felt they were ‘outside of themselves’. They didn’t have the perceptions of fatigue and pain. They weren’t thinking about their side stitch. Sure enough, the runners in the woods ran better. Their finish times were much faster than the runners on the open track.”
When re-tested for runners on a treadmill, the results were the same. “People just run faster outdoors.”

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