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I went up to Redwood Park in Oakland last weekend with my friend and dogs, to blow off some steam. I love to go on long hikes regularly to peel off the layers of stress from the preceding week.

Upon entering the forest, the effect was immediate. Our worries seemed to fall away as we listened to the sounds of the birds, smelled the dirt and bark, and were awed by the sheer size of the redwoods.

We all know that being in nature feels good, but now there is empirical evidence that these experiences are beneficial, both mentally and physically.

Spending time in the forest improves mood, lowers blood pressure, and reduces stress

Studies show that both sitting in the forest and exercising in the forest reduces the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline as well as reduces blood pressure. Using the Profile of Mood States test, researchers found that simply taking a walk in the woods significantly decreased the scores for depression, confusion, anxiety, anger, and fatigue. And stress hormones significantly affect the immune system, so reducing these reduces the total load on your immune system.

A walk in the woods can boost your immune system and potentially more

Fresh air is filled with phytoncides, airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When we breathe in these plant chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cells that kill tumor and virus-infected cells in our bodies.

A Japanese study found that after hiking twice a day for three days, participants’ white blood cells had increased by 40%. White blood cells remained 15% higher a month later. Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.

Even a view of nature can help recovery time

One well-known study, by Richard Ulrich, found that patients recovering from surgery in rooms with a window facing a natural setting had shorter postoperative stays, took less pain medicine, and had slightly fewer post-surgical complications compared to those who had a view of a cement wall.

Make a date with yourself or a friend

I’ve got some homework for you: reach out to a friend or get some alone time and go on a hike in the forest. Put it on the calendar. There’s almost no better way to feel better quickly than spending time in nature.

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