When I was growing up, we’d come into the house at the end of a day of hunting … or just outdoor chores, for that matter … with rosy cheeks, stiff fingers, and runny noses. Mom would offer up hot chocolate or warm cider or even chili or homemade chicken noodle soup if we were really lucky. On especially cold days, she’d greet us in the back hallway with the big, steaming mugs.
Usually not long after the internal warm up, I’d end up curled up on the couch or the recliner and slip off to sleep. The whole situation arose from what my dad called “fresh air poisoning.” Of course, he knew, and we all knew it was actually good for us! There was likely nothing better.
These days, my wife does a great job of watching out for my health. In fact, she does a better job of keeping me fit and healthy than I do! She also does a great job of keeping me informed about health and vitality, so it was no surprise when I found a page she’d torn from Experience Life magazine sitting on top of my “stack of stuff” at home. The circled news article she wanted me to see was titled, “How Forests Boost Immunity.”
The stuff they’ll spend money to research is crazy. All they would have had to do is come talk to me, and I could have told them all about Pa’s common sense philosophy on fresh air poisoning. But even without knowing his philosophy, there likely isn’t a hunter, fisherman or camper out there who couldn’t have told these so-called “scientists” the same thing. You can’t have ever gone for even a short hike in the woods, taken a few deep breaths, and not understand the place is invigorating; life-giving! This kind of invigoration is why President Theodore Roosevelt used to go skinny-dipping in the Potomac River when he was trapped in D.C.
Standing among the evergreens, whether pine, spruce, cedar or whatever—every breath is a joy. Then there’s that smell in the fall when the leaves are beginning to fall—there’s no other scent like it. And the there’s that natural perfume smoke from a campfire or wood stove burning well-seasoned wood.
Call me crazy, but I even love that foxfire smell in the marsh. And how about that first scent you catch of saltwater as you near the ocean? Lewis and Clark and their men knew they were getting close by that intoxicating smell days before they laid eyes on the Pacific for the first time.
This is “good air.” And good air is essential to fresh air poisoning.
The short magazine piece my wife clipped for me detailed research that shows spending time in nature lowers blood pressure, pulse rate and levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, as well as boosting your immune system. Duh?
In the study in Japan, 12 healthy men between the ages of 37 and 55 took a 3-day trip into a forest. On the first day the men spent 2 hours in the afternoon walking in the forest. On the second day they walked in the forest for 2 hours in the morning and 2 more hours in the afternoon. Blood samples tested on days 2 and 3 showed in 11 of the 12 men there was a 50 percent increase in natural “killer” cells. These cells are one of the main components of the immune system and play a central role in fighting tumors and viruses.
The Experience Life article went on to say, “Researchers believe that the increase in natural killer cells is in part a response to phytonocides, the essential oils in wood that help protect it from insects and rotting.” They also said that the immune benefits from a trip in the woods can last up to a month after exposure!
I have to smile at their report that just six hours in the woods over the course of 3 days can do all that. We spend six hours in the woods on a single day — usually more than that. Heck, we should never get sick again.
But wait … ahem, ahem, hmmmmm … was that a faint cough? Is that a tickle in my throat?
I better go get out to the woods … now!