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A Retreat To Nature Can Boost Immunity And Mood

June 17, 2019

From NPR.org:

When my editors asked me to report on forest bathing, I packed a swimsuit. I assumed it must involve a dip in the water.

It turns out, my interpretation was too literal.

I met certified Forest Therapy guide Melanie Choukas-Bradley and several other women who'd come along for the adventure at the footbridge to Theodore Roosevelt Island, a dense jungle of an urban forest along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.

Here, I began to get it. Forest bathing isn't a bath. We sat on the banks of the river, but we did not get in the water.

It's not a hike, either. We did walk the forest trails, but we meandered with no particular destination in mind.

The aim of forest bathing, Choukas-Bradley explained, is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment. She helped us tune in to the smells, textures, tastes and sights of the forest. We took in our surroundings by using all our senses.

As we passed through a stand of pawpaw trees, we touched the bark. We smelled the black walnuts, which give off a lovely citrus fragrance. We got a little shower of ripe mulberries, too.

"Close your eyes and just breathe, just breathe," Choukas-Bradley intoned. It felt a bit like a meditation retreat.

It took me a few minutes to clear out the clutter in my brain, and tune in to the natural world.

"When you open your eyes, imagine you're seeing the world for the very first time," Choukas-Bradley told us.

After I opened my eyes, the green looked a lot greener. And I began to see things I hadn't noticed before: the flutter of birds, the ripple of the water, the swaying of trees.

A forest guide "helps you be here, not there," says Amos Clifford, a former wilderness guide with a master's degree in counseling, and the founder of the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy, the organization that certifies the guides.

Clifford's goal is to encourage health care providers to incorporate forest therapy as a stress-reduction strategy. There's no question that stress takes a terrible toll in the United States; a 2015 study found work-related stress accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs each.

"It's my hope that the health care system will include [forest therapy] into the range of services they reimburse for," Clifford says.

The practice began in Japan. Back in the early 1990s the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-yoku -- which translates roughly as forest bathing.

For more from NPR.org, click here.

FAQ: Questions About Measles

May 13, 2019

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Am I protected from measles? Do I need a booster vaccine? How effective is the measles vaccine? And more answers to common questions about measles and the vaccine used to prevent it.

FAQ: Questions About Measles

May 13, 2019

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Am I protected from measles? Do I need a booster vaccine? How effective is the measles vaccine? And more answers to common questions about measles and the vaccine used to prevent it.

To Grow Up Healthy, Children Need to Sit Less and Play More

May 7, 2019

From the World Health Organization:

Children under five must spend less time sitting watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats, get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy, according to new guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).

"Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people's lives," says WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains."

The new guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under 5 years of age were developed by a WHO panel of experts. They assessed the effects on young children of inadequate sleep, and time spent sitting watching screens or restrained in chairs and prams. They also reviewed evidence around the benefits of increased activity levels.

"Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and wellbeing, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life," says Dr Fiona Bull, programme manager for surveillance and population-based prevention of noncommunicable diseases, at WHO.

Failure to meet current physical activity recommendations is responsible for more than 5 million deaths globally each year across all age groups. Currently, over 23% of adults and 80% of adolescents are not sufficiently physically active. If healthy physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep habits are established early in life, this helps shape habits through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.

"What we really need to do is bring back play for children," says Dr Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity. "This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep. "

The pattern of overall 24-hour activity is key: replacing prolonged restrained or sedentary screen time with more active play, while making sure young children get enough good-quality sleep. Quality sedentary time spent in interactive non-screen-based activities with a caregiver, such as reading, storytelling, singing and puzzles, is very important for child development.

The important interactions between physical activity, sedentary behaviour and adequate sleep time, and their impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing, were recognized by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, which called for clear guidance on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep in young children.

Applying the recommendations in these guidelines during the first five years of life will contribute to children's motor and cognitive development and lifelong health.

To find out more, click here.