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Feel better - go for a walk in the woods!

by Aileen Melia, Landscape Architect.

Ever since I was little, I have always loved trees. The colours, textures, shapes and sounds have intrigued me since I can remember. I used to climb trees, swing from them play in them, and although I’m a bit past that now, I still would much rather be in the woods than anywhere else.

Perhaps not everyone likes being amongst trees as much as I do, but research suggests that everybody would benefit from being a bit more tree huggy like me!

Did you know that being in natural surroundings, such as a woodland, helps to decrease stress and anxiety? In Japan, a study of 585 participants was carried out, comparing moods after walking for 15 minutes in either a forest or an urban setting. The participants who had been in the forest experienced less anxiety, hostility, fatigue, confusion and depressive symptoms, and showed more vigor compared to those who had been walking through an urban environment.

Trees can benefit our immune systems, walking in woods can lower blood pressure, cortisol levels, pulse rates and improve heart health. There are studies to suggest that being in forests can counter illnesses such as cancer, strokes, gastric ulcers, depression, anxiety and stress. All for free!

Forest bathing (shinrin yoku), is commonplace in Japan as a practice of preventative health care. It has mental, physical and spiritual health benefits. As humans, we have a deep connection to trees, going back thousands of years. Forestry England have listed some beginners tips for successful forest bathing for beginners…give them a try!

  • Turn off your devices to give yourself the best chance of relaxing, being mindful and enjoying a sensory forest-based experience.
  • Slow down. Move through the forest slowly so you can see and feel more.
  • Take long breaths deep into the abdomen. Extending the exhalation of air to twice the length of the inhalation sends a message to the body that it can relax.
  • Stop, stand or sit, smell what’s around you, what can you smell?
  • Take in your surroundings using all of your senses. How does the forest environment make you feel? Be observant, look at nature’s small details.
  • Sit quietly using mindful observation; try to avoid thinking about your to-do list or issues related to daily life. You might be surprised by the number of wild forest inhabitants you see using this process.
  • Keep your eyes open. The colours of nature are soothing and studies have shown that people relax best while seeing greens and blues.
  • Stay as long as you can, start with a comfortable time limit and build up to the recommended two hours for a complete forest bathing experience.

Some of my favourite places to visit across Lancashire are:

  • Forest of Bowland
  • Beacon Fell
  • Witton Country Park, Blackburn
  • Sunnyhurst Woods, Darwen
  • The Coppice, Accrington

Where do you like going? Have fun, relax, give trees a chance.  Aileen Melia – Landscape Design Manager, Newground.

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