Goodbye ‘dreadmill’, hello trees

It’s May and we’re standing on the edge of summer, when ‘the livin’ is easy!’ Tulips are pushing through the soil, grass is greening, temps are climbing, lawnmowers will soon be humming and life is moving outdoors.

Hope springs as trees begin to burst with green foliage and magically transform the landscape. Trees hold a secret inside their leafy canopies. New research suggests they offer some significant health benefits. There are some great reasons to ‘hug a tree,’ or maybe a forest, metaphorically speaking, even if you’re not technically a tree-hugger.

One study found that kids with ADHD who walked in a forest versus an urban area had better concentration. A walk among the trees lowers cortisol, the stress hormone. In fact, some nature gurus claim it can strengthen immunity, lower blood pressure, increase focus and ultimately lower health-care costs.

‘Forest bathing,’ made popular by the Japanese, is not about setting up your tub in the forest and having a water bath, as lovely an outdoor spa experience as that might be. It’s about immersing yourself in the healing properties of trees and plants. A 20-minute walk in the forest can reduce cortisol by 13.4 per cent.

Forest bathing became part of a national health program in Japan in 1982. Last year, the Washington Post reported it has become the latest fitness trend to hit the U.S. It’s where yoga was 30 years ago. In Canada, it has spawned the new field of forest therapy guide.

But doesn’t all of this feel a bit artificial – needing science to tell us it’s good to get in the woods, needing a forest therapy guide to lead us through a simple walk in the forest? Yet, this generation, perhaps more than any other, needs a nudge to help us get our noses out of our devices.

We can be our own guide, choosing to awaken from our digital comas and reconnect with the natural world. This is where we slow down, connect with our surroundings and unconsciously absorb all those benefits.

Whatever we may think about forest bathing and forest therapy guides, getting outdoors beats the dreadmill by a country mile. Treadmills were first used in prisons as instruments of punishment. Why is that not surprising? I don’t consider myself a sucker for punishment, but I succumb to treadmill use in winter to reduce my odds of looking like a whale in spring.

But with summer bliss unfolding, the dreadmill has been relegated to an obscure closet of my mind. There will come a sad reunion with the dreadmill in late fall. In the meantime, I intend to breathe deep, inhale summer, find the trees and hit the trail.