Orthopedic Surgeon

Getting Back To Nature: Stimulate Better Health, Improved Attitudes, and Healthier Relationships

Everyone always asks me how powerful and invigorating getting back to nature feels. To finally give some clarity on this subject, I loaded up the truck, packed my swimsuit, and headed out to bath myself in the pristine waters of nature. 

What I discovered was more than invigorating, it was spiritual. 

While on my experience, I met up with one of the most connected Forest Therapy Guides I ever encountered. Myself, along with several other explorers ventured off the beaten path together and discovered something unforgettable. The extremely thick forest mixed in between our urban landscape was like stepping into an unknown part of the world. 

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It was then, I finally understood why this was such a hotly talked about topic. There, we put on our bathing suits, but we didn’t immediately get into the water. 

I wouldn’t call it a hike through the forest either. It was more like an exciting trek through untouched forest trails. We aimlessly wandered throughout the landscape with no certain location in mind. 

Our guide took the group on this extremely spiritual experience and none of us expected what we discovered. 

Before purchasing a spot on the tour, the description explained that we were going to be on a mission to reconnect ourselves with the slow, tranquil pace of nature. Getting outside of the hustle and bustle of the city would open our senses to a forgotten side of the world. 

We were going to reconnect our 5 senses to the natural smells, sounds, tastes, and textures of the natural world. For so many of us, we have become numb to mother earth due to our long exposure to the comforts and convenience of city life. By simply using our sense in nature, we were already setting ourselves on a path to rediscover who we really were.

As we trekked deeper into the unknown, we explored trees, touched mother nature, and got a deep whiff of the organic flora and fauna that call the forest home. We even splashed around in natural water seeping up from the world around us. 

To be honest, it felt like we were on the Discovery Channel. Every inch and minute of that experience was a pure rush of excitement. 

I’ll be honest. It took me a while to fully immerse myself. However, once I did, it was like walking through an untouched America. I wonder if that is how Lewis and Clark felt as they trekked an uncharted America. 

At one point, our guide had us close our eyes and listen to some natural poetry, and meditative quotes from the naturalist John Muir. 

As we stood there, she continued to read the poetry and asked us to open our eyes. At that point, everything became crystal clear. I started to hear the chirping of the birds around us. The swaying of the trees echoed a uniformed sound through the forest that was too clear to ignore. 

Everything from the ripple of the water to the color of the trees became as clear as day. 

We all began to realize that our guide was not there to help us find our way around. She was there to help us be present in the moment. It’s something that we often take for granted. While yes, we are physically here, are we really? 

The guide was there to help us realize how forest therapy could serve to reduce the symptoms of depression and help eliminate the need for Ritalin and Prozac type medications. There was no doubt that everything else but the magnificent beauty of nature flooded my soul. All we could think, see and hear was the natural ebb and flow of energy through the forest. 

It’s a secret that the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry doesn’t openly advertise. One study released in 2015 shows the constantly rising cost of work-related stress and how that can be directly mitigated by incorporating more time in nature and natural, organically inspired activities to combat that stress.

It was the wish of our guide that the rising costs of work-related stress be partially combated by incorporating natural moments in nature. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Researchers in Japan have practiced this type of therapeutic behavior since the early 1990s. Spearheaded by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, the term Shinrin-yoku literally translates into forest bathing.

If we look at the U.S origins of forest bathing, it’s barely taking off. The Association of Nature & Forest Therapy is currently in the middle of training an incredible 250 new guides. 

The evidence, research, and first-hand testimony all point to the direction that this practice can help tremendously revitalize your life by boosting the immune system, reducing stress, and eliminating depression. Labeled under the field of integrative medicine, medical researchers have been studying forest bathing as an alternative to certain pharmaceutical medications. So far, the research is promising and stands out as one of the most holistic forms of therapeutic treatment in the world.

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Recently, more mainstream studies have confirmed that walking both outdoors and indoors can lead to improved mental and physical health. The difference that our guide explained to us was the outdoor forest walks help you to tune your senses into things you wouldn’t find in the city. The forest environment has been proven to better induce stress regulating hormones and better blood pressure regulation. 

Research conducted by the National Institute of Health has proven that those individuals that regularly participated in a guided or unguided forest walk maintained a blood pressure ranging from 36 to 77 and saw a reduction in systolic blood pressure from 141 mmHg down to 134 mmHg. 

These numbers can be clinically significant for individuals that maintain certain pre-existing conditions, adults suffering from type 2 diabetes, and many other individuals. 

It’s clear that the research and groundwork done in Japan have led to a resurgence in the methodology by physicians, doctors, and clinicians around the world. If you find yourself under stress, disconnected from the world around you, trapped in your thoughts, suffering from high blood pressure, or just are simply seeking a new activity, forest bathing is exactly what you need.

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About Charles J. DePaolo, M.D.

Dr. DePaolo has practiced medicine in Asheville for over 20 years and specializes in Sports Medicine, Joint Reconstructive Surgery, and Shoulder, Hip, and Knee Surgery. He is speciality certified in Sports Medicine “Certificate of Added Qualifications in Sports Medicine”.