The Montagne Fiorentine Model Forest Association, in the framework of the National Project of Forest Therapy of the CNR (National Research Council) and the Central Scientific Committee of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI), is organizing a series of experimental sessions dedicated to demonstrate the benefits of the Forest on our health.
Anyone can participate by contributing to the research. The forest walks begin with the non-invasive measurement of some physiological indexes and with the compilation of some questionnaires, which are then repeated at the end of the experience. The session in the forest is conducted by a qualified psychotherapist who accompanies participants on a walk with frequent stops to discover their senses in contact with nature.
Beneficial effects on states of anxiety, stress and depression, and on the strength of the immune system, have been observed after just 20 minutes of immersion in the forest. Two hours leave a lasting impression for up to a week, and with two days in the forest, the immune system retains beneficial effects for up to a month. Neurological studies have shown that meditation and forest immersion practices have very similar effects, and that introducing breathing techniques into the forest significantly amplifies the beneficial effects.
The health services offered by forests through their frequentation have been widely validated by science, both on a psychological and physiological level. All the human senses contribute to these benefits: the vision and direct contact with the trees, the sounds of the forest, the taste with the products of the undergrowth, and the sense of smell. Precisely the inhalation of volatile organic compounds released by plants and soil, valuable components of essential oils, plays a key role, as long as the air is as pure as in the forests we encounter in the Montagne Fiorentine Model Forest.
The lockdowns of these months have caused an exponential increase in cases of anxiety, depression and stress in the population; activity in nature will play a central role in the recovery phase.
In Italy, the Ministry for Agricultural Policies has indicated forest therapy as a socio-cultural service in the draft of 2020 for the new plan for the Forest Policies of our country, but also the United Nations indicate this special therapy as a fundamental tool for recovery after the hard months.
In short, a simple walk in the woods, with the right focus on our surroundings, could help communities improve their quality of life and consequently public health.
This is not a discovery of recent years, in Japan for example the bath in the woods, called Shinrin-yoku, is an activity practiced for centuries and now prescribed by Japanese doctors to alleviate the spread of disorders related to overwork in the country. CAI and CNR are therefore also working in Italy to arrive at certified stations where patients suffering from particular pathologies can be treated.
We can therefore define forest therapy as another of the many ecosystem services offered by forests to humanity, introducing the fight against pandemics among those already well known such as their fundamental role in combating climate change, production aspects, water purification, soil maintenance, etc.
Protecting the environment, forests and green areas, together with health policies that promote more active lifestyles, could be the turning point to enhance the health of all of us!
For more information you can download for free the publication of the first study on Forest Therapy in Italy by the CNR (National Research Council) and the Central Scientific Committee of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI) at this link (at the moment it is published only in Italian) https://comunicazione.cnr.it/novita-editoriale/313/terapia-forestale