A Prescription for Wellness

A Prescription for Wellness: Take a Walk at the Arboretum!

Many people in our area love visiting the Overland Park Arboretum. Maybe you’re a gardener or you just love flowers. Maybe you’re a hiker and you enjoy the trails. Or maybe you just love being out in nature. It’s not just a feeling – there’s scientific evidence that wellness can be connected to spending time in places like the Arboretum, making you happier and healthier!

The University of Michigan did a study in 2008 that found being out in nature can improve memory and attention. They sent research participants out for a walk at the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum and compared their cognitive results to walking in an urban setting. They found that memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent after people spent an hour interacting with nature.

Similarly, as related in an article in Outside Online, Japanese researchers found that that leisurely forest walks, compared with urban walks, yield a 12.4 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a seven percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure, and a 5.8 percent decrease in heart rate. On subjective tests, study participants also report better moods and lower anxiety.

The article further relates the following story: Qing Li, an immunologist in the department of hygiene and public health at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, studies human immunity and the level of “NK” cells. A type of white blood cell, NK cells are handy to have around, since they send self-destruct messages to tumors and virus-infected cells. It’s been known for a long time that factors like stress, aging, and pesticides can reduce your NK count, at least temporarily. So, Li wondered, if nature reduces stress, could it also help you fight infections and cancer? In 2005 and 2006, Li brought a group of middle-aged Tokyo businessmen into the woods. For three days, they hiked in the morning and again in the afternoon. By the end, blood tests showed that their NK cells had increased 40 percent. A month later, their NK count was still 15 percent higher than when they started. By contrast, during urban walking trips, NK levels didn’t change.

Since most of us can’t spend three days a week walking in the woods, Li was curious to know if a one-day trip to a suburban park would have a similar effect. It did, boosting the levels of both NK cells and anticancer proteins for at least seven days afterward.

Li’s advice? “If you have time for a vacation, don’t go to a city. Go to a natural area. Try to go one weekend a month. Visit a park at least once a week. Gardening is good. On urban walks, try to walk under trees, not across fields. Go to a quiet place. Near water is also good.”

So there’s the proof and here’s the prescription – come out and wander around the Arboretum regularly to improve your life!

For more information, check out these links:

University of Michigan study – http://ns.umich.edu/new/releases/6892

Japanese study/Outside Online – http://www.outsideonline.com/1870381/take-two-hours-pine-forest-and-call-me-morning

Join Friends of the Arboretum and become a regular visitor to the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens!