The forests of the world are burning. Innumerable ecosystems and their flora and fauna are destroyed within a very short time – sometimes nature recovers from this, but this takes time. Forests give us humans so much and therefore they must be protected.
For Europeans, forests are nature par excellence. Most of us are aware of the value of forests, their contribution to oxygen production and the neutralization of harmful CO2. Forests store water, protect the soil from erosion and provide us with wood, nuts and fruit. However, urban dwellers in particular spend far too little time in forests.
Even the first step into the shade of the trees is a relief. The filtered, gentle sunlight, the smell of bark, leaves and needles, the thousands of shades of green – one deep breath and relaxation sets in.
After a walk in the forest we always feel rested, not seldom the words "reborn" are used – but how does the forest do that?
How does the forest affect our health?
Researchers have long known: the forest strengthens our immune system. With every stay we do better for the body's own protective mechanisms, helping the immune system to cope with stress, high blood pressure and diabetes. Even the elimination of cancer cells at an early stage is promoted by a regular intake of forest air. Not to mention the effects on our mental balance. Because the forest is calming. After only a short time, it can be proven that the stress hormone cortisol, which is present in the blood, is significantly reduced.
Scent therapy in the forest
How does the forest do that? It is now known that trees release scents and even communicate with each other via such terpenes. And we breathe them in, too. Breathing deeply for less than half an hour in the forest lowers the cortisol level in the blood. At sustained peak levels, for example due to constant stress, the adrenal hormone damages the body's self-healing mechanisms, promotes cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. The forest works against this.
In Japan, the therapeutic value of the forest is now even regarded as a recognised medical measure. There, "forest bathing" has long been part of the treatment of chronic, but also acute diseases. And in Europe, too, awareness of the value of nature is growing. Just looking at a single tree or an avenue is able to cheer up city dwellers and improve the quality of life.
Off to the forest – and then what?
A walk in the forest always has something to offer, regardless of the season. And of course, every forest has its own atmosphere, deciduous forests differ from coniferous forests, tree stands in the mountains from forests along rivers or in the lowlands.
The Japanese "forest bathing", meaning the conscious perception and involvement in the forest habitat, can also be done without instruction. It only needs open eyes. Then you take in details such as the shape of leaves, trunks or cones, observe animal tracks or discover initially inconspicuous small plants along the way.
Designated areas of the forest can also be used for sports, such as jogging, and treetop paths invite you to secure climbing. Some communities occasionally offer guided hikes, for example by the Alpine Club, and children can also learn something about the forest at such activities.
Live and let live for sustainable forest management
If you want to introduce your offspring to the joys of forest walking yourself, you should above all take care to behave carefully – leaving no litter behind, staying on the paths, not making noise. Animals and plants want one thing above all else from visitors: their peace and quiet. That is why you should only pick up wilted leaves or fallen cones, but not pick or eat anything. Wild animals, even apparently single young animals, are better left alone – the mother is usually just waiting for you to leave. If you want to pick mushrooms in the forest, you should make sure that and where this is allowed and have the yield checked.
Discover the forest – and get healthy
Our conclusion: Forests have much to give us. Even a short walk does us a lot of good. That is why we at NIKIN are committed to protecting the forests of the world, our native tree population as well as the large, rich tropical forests in Asia, Africa, South America and currently also Australia. Get to know our forests better and join in!