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    TREE GLEE FOREST THERAPY COMES TO THE WEST

    Date:

    Dr Liz Cyarto

    Something new is coming to the western suburbs and it’s sure to set your mind at ease.

    Forest Therapy, a series of nature-based activities led by a trained guide, is offered in many countries around the world, and is now in Australia. That’s because over 200 research studies have shown that it’s great for your health.

    Forest Therapy is a public health practice of guided immersion in forests, with the aim of promoting physical and mental health whilst enjoying the natural environment. The practice encourages us to slow down and engage all our senses to reconnect with nature. Individuals use it for self-care, and even corporate and community groups use Forest Therapy to reduce stress and increase innovation.

    Where did it start? 

    The health practice originated in Japan in response to rapid urbanisation and stress-related health problems. Japan drew upon its ancient Shinto religion which believes trees are sacred and forests are healing. The term ‘Shinrin-yoku’ or ‘forest bathing’ was coined by the government’s Forestry Agency in 1982 to initiate the regular practice of forest immersion for wellbeing.

    Between 2004 and 2012, the Japanese government invested $4 million in developing Shinrin-yoku as a national health program. Since then other countries like Canada, USA, China, South Korea, and Germany have embraced the practice. In fact, in New Zealand, your doctor may give you a ‘green prescription’ to encourage you to get active outside. 

    Why does Forest Therapy work?

    Trees are the world’s lungs. They clean our air. They also release phytoncides. These volatile organic compounds act as a tree’s natural defence against bacteria, insects and fungi. When we breathe them in, our immune system gets a boost. Phytoncides stimulate the production and activity of our natural killer cells.

    Also, as you are being led through a sequence of sensory and creative activities in nature, your parasympathetic system is activated. This puts a brake on our sympathetic nervous system, our body’s accelerator. That’s why after a Forest Therapy walk our blood pressure and cortisol level will lower and we often feel calmer, more energised and in a better mood.

    Where and when will the Forest Therapy guided walks take place?

    Thanks to support from the ‘Make It Happen’ grants program, I’ll be designing guided Forest Therapy walks in Newport Lakes Reserve and the Williamstown Botanic Gardens over the next few months and people over 55 will be able to access them for free. The gentle walks will take two hours and only cover 1–2 kilometres. For some of the walks I’ll be partnering with the 3rd Williamstown Scouts troop to provide uplifting intergenerational connections. 

    How can people access the walks?

    Anyone is welcome to email me at lizcyarto@gmail.com. Please put Forest Therapy in the subject line and let me know where your favourite nature spot is in the west. 

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