The Real Deal: Get Outside and Enjoy the Benefits of Nature

Fall is just around the corner and our hot humid summers have almost come to an end.  Getting out into the shade is great summer relief from the heat and it has some additional benefits you might not realize you are getting for free!

When you are out walking under the trees, enjoying all of the stunning fall foliage, you are doing something the Japanese coined “Forest Bathing” in the ‘80s.  In Japan the traditional name is Shinrin-Yoku, which means experiencing the forest through your five senses and connecting yourself to the natural world.  Sadly, most of the American population spends almost eighty seven percent of their time indoors and an additional six percent in an enclosed vehicle.  That math makes it seem as though most of us could take a little time to really get back to nature and it’s as simple as a walk in the woods.

While you are walking under the trees and taking a “Forest Bath,” you are getting the added benefit of the aerosols that many trees and plants emit, called terpenes.  Conifer trees, like the good old southern pine we have no shortage of here in North Carolina, are trees that strongly emit terpenes.  They can also be found in some herbs, spices and even fruits.

The Gift of Terpenes

What is a terpene and why is it such a great gift? By definition, terpene is a natural compound formula (C5H8)n and there are over 30,000 compounds of unsaturated hydrocarbons.  Alpha-Pinene is one of those compounds and is the one from the pine tree (the name is a giveaway). It can also be found in rosemary, eucalyptus, and orange peels. Remember, that every time you peel an orange, the spritz that comes out is a healthy dose of terpenes released into the air.  Alpha-Pinene has some very beneficial properties.  It’s anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-ulcerogenic, can aid in memory retention and studies have cited its ability to halt cancerous cell growth.   That’s pretty powerful stuff!

Interestingly, the terpene Myrcene can cross the blood-brain barrier, and when mixed with other terpenes it can increase the effects of them.  This is a more common terpene that can be found in hops (yes, the hops in your beer), cardamom, eucalyptus, lemongrass, mango, bay leaves, and wild thyme. Myrcene can be used as a sleep aid, it’s anti-inflammatory, a pain reliever and anti-mutagenic.

In oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit, you will find the terpene D-Limonene.  Its benefits include acid reduction which is great for acid reflux and heartburn.   It’s an antioxidant and can help with any metabolic issues, aid in weight loss, as well as reduce stress and inflammation.

Birch trees, mint, laurels, cinnamon and rosewood all emit Linalool.  The benefits of Linalool include pain relief, a reduction in inflammation, anxiety reduction, and it is also an anti-epileptic.  Linalool has a floral and sweet scent.

A spicy terpene known as Beta-Caryophyllene can be found in black pepper, clove, basil rosemary, oregano, and cinnamon.  This is another anti-inflammatory terpene that can reduce depression and anxiety, and has been shown to slow the growth of bacteria.

Terpinolene can be found in cumin, nutmeg, apples, lilac and tea trees.  It’s antibacterial, antifungal and can be a sedative.

Walk Your Way to Better Health

You can see how a simple walk in the woods can be good for so many of our ailments!  Of course, walking has some great health benefits on its own, and the fact that the forest is full of terpenes is an added bonus.  Perhaps it’s why hiking seems to really lure people into the forest for miles and miles!

If you don’t have time to make it out to the woods for a walk, kick off your shoes and take a walk through the grass with your bare feet.  This is a great way to feel grounded, connect yourself to the earth and studies have shown that just this simple act can be a great way to relieve stress by clearing the mind, uplifting your mood and stabilizing your blood pressure.  Barefoot walking stimulates the nervous system (which is an immune system!) and  doing it boosts your immune system, while also improving your posture and foot mechanics which can relieve pain in your ankles, knees, and hips.

When you’re at the beach, the sand and pebbles will stimulate the acupressure points on the foot.  This can give the whole body a boost of energy and even boost the pressure point for eyesight.

Whatever you do, just get outside and enjoy the benefits of nature!

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