Plant Goodness

From the Dec. 15 GreenTalks, a horiticulture trade e-newsletter

There is mounting evidence telling us what we already know: green spaces are important for our mental and physical health. Plenty of psychological research documents how “green spaces” and nature can improve cognition and relieve everything from anxiety to depression and ADD.

There is exciting new research in Japan, where they’re measuring what happens to human cells and neurons in different environments. This new research may seem to be just another form of supporting evidence, but it breaks new ground, redefining the role of nature on a molecular level. Researchers are evaluating the human response to walking among trees/nature compared to walking in a strictly urban environment, and they’re quantifying it with brain-imaging technology, blood pressure, hormone analysis and heart rate. The findings are striking.

But first, a little background (gathered from an article, “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call me in theMorning”).  Japan’s Forestry Agency has started designating official “Forest Therapy” trails, and the government has been funding research on their effects since 2004. The Japanese have flocked to these trails to relieve stress and improve health. They call it shinrin-yoku (it literally translates to “forest bathing”).

Some of the results show that a leisurely walk on these forest therapy trails results in an average:

• 12.4% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol
• 7% decrease in sympathetic nerve activity
• 1.4% decrease in blood pressure
• 5.8% decrease in heart rate

Researchers are hoping to also determine exactly which landscape features—ponds, trees, flowers, biodiversity—can have the biggest impact on the brain. Once they know this, they hope that information can help affect urban planning, architectural design and public policy. From [GreenTalks editor’s] perspective, imagine if we all started designing our backyards and neighborhoods for maximum cortisol reduction and heart health, as well as aesthetic appeal? 

Lower your blood pressure and de-stress in one of Oregon’s many public gardens (or at the Yard, Garden & Patio Show, February 8-10). Find the gardens here.