Ever wondered why walking in a natural environment like the New Forest makes you feel so good? So have lots of health professionals. And now they think they have the answer.
A recent study showed that being in a forest helped people to quell ruminative thoughts – the niggling, negative ideas that weigh down our minds and contribute to stress and depression. And the reason this helps is because the natural environment prompts ‘cognitive reappraisal’ – the way we view events and experiences.
Research shows that even just sitting in a forest reduces blood-pressure and decreases the production of stress-related hormones. In some cases researchers discovered that merely looking at a drawing or photo of trees would have this effect.
But there’s more! Plants such as the pines, firs and ancient broadleaved trees you find in the New Forest give off essential oils known as phytoncides. These oils are formed to protect trees from attack by insects and germs and they have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.
Scientists believe that when we breathe in these natural chemicals they help us increase and improve the function of our white blood cells – the ones which attack viruses and tumours.
No wonder, then, that faced with this kind of evidence following research in their own country, the Japanese government introduced the concept of shinrin-yoku – forest bathing – to the nation and have since seen the idea taken up around the world.
Google searches for the term have risen by 247 per cent and in 2015 forest bathing was introduced at the annual New Forest Walking Festival.
In her new book, Forest Therapy: Seasonal Ways to Embrace Nature For A Happier You, writer Sarah Ivens lists the seemingly never-ending range of benefits you can gain from visiting a forest. “Being in a whirl of phytoncides can boost the immune system, helping to fight off flu, coughs and colds,” she says. Walking by yourself: “Means you must rely on yourself. This makes you braver and better at decision-making.”
And the best news of all? It really is as simple as hopping on a train, getting out your bike, or driving the car to one of our free, New Forest car-parks and then walking into the green.
Wilverley Inclosure takes you through some of the ancient and ornamental woodlands, just off the A35. The route from Brook to Minstead Village will take you through two woodlands, as well as the village of Minstead itself. Or the Bolderwood to Radnor trail will show you some ancient trees as well as the Blackwater, a tributary of the Lymington River which should, according to Ivens’ book, double up the benefit because: “The presence of water – a lake, river or ocean – makes the positive effects of happiness even more noticeable.”
The New Forest has more than 40 miles of coastline, as well as waterways including the historic Beaulieu River and the Keyhaven Marshes for you to test out the theory that even just staring at an expanse of blue water can have a calming effect.