There is a clear and well-established link between chronic stress and gut health. Continued exposure to stressful situations can change the composition of your gut flora, affect your digestion, and lead to conditions like Candida overgrowth. By reducing your stress levels, you can not only boost your immunity and reduce the chance of Candida overgrowth, but also avoid a host of other stress-related health issues.
Recent studies in Japan have shown that lowering blood pressure, fighting off depression and preventing stress-related illness may be a simple as taking a walk in the woods. In fact, the Japanese consider shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” a preventative medicine! And it’s not about getting out in the wilderness, per se; it’s a lot simpler than that. It’s about hanging out in nature, enjoying the trees and taking in nature through all the senses. Japan has 48 official ‘therapy trails,’ and intends to install several more.
There are a number of psychological studies that support the idea that spending time in nature relieves stress and stress-related symptoms. Being in nature has been found to improve cognition, relieve depression and anxiety, and boost empathy. This new information coincides with new evidence that we are experiencing nature less and less each year.
In 2008, more people lived in urban areas than outside of them. Over the past decade or two, the move to suburbia has reversed and more of us are returning to the cities. Coupled with this is the fact that many of us spend 8 hours or more of each day looking at electronic screens. Alan Logan, a naturopathic doctor and author, believes that as the digital age intensifies, North Americans are becoming more aggressive, less able to focus, more depressed, and fatter. He attributes this to the amount of time spent tethered to electronic interfaces. Even during outdoor exercise, are we ever truly unhooked? We bring our phones, our fitness trackers, and our music.
To benefit from nature, you need to be unplugged from everything else and focused on the moment in front of you. In fact, research shows that if you are distracted by an electronic device while walking outside, you may remain more irritable that your counterparts that are more “present” in their outdoor environment.
Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a physiological anthropologist and vice director of Chiba University’s Center for Environment, Health, and Field Sciences, has conducted experiments with more than 600 research subjects. He has found that forest walks, when compared with urban walks, decreased the stress hormone cortisol by a little over 12 percent. This could be invaluable if you, like many Candida sufferers, are also experiencing chronic burnout and the beginnings of adrenal fatigue.
In Scotland, a study published under the journal Landscape and Urban Planning found that those living in areas where there were few parks, woodlands or other natural areas had higher cortisol levels.
In a 2011 study, 128 college runners performed better when surrounded by greenness. They experienced less fatigue and a feeling of invigoration.
Encouraged by these findings, other countries are following suit. South Korea is pouring money into a new National Forest Therapy Center, and Finland conducting its own studies. Even in the U.S, results of a pilot study at the University of Kansas and University of Utah show that three days of hiking and camping in the wilderness improved creativity scores by 50 percent.
This is not a new idea, even if it is a new trend. Back in the 1970s, researchers at the University of Michigan noticed that simple things were most likely to relieve us of our stress, for example watching the rain, a sunset, or a butterfly. Surprisingly, these benefits are derived even from looking at pictures of greenery in a lab.
But do these benefits last? In a study conducted in Tokyo in 2005 and 2006, the natural immune cells that tell virus and tumor cells to self-destruct (called NK cells), were increased by 40 percent among businessmen who walked in the woods for 3 days a week. Months later, their NK cell count was still 15 present higher than when they started. Urban walking trips showed no effect on NK levels.
What could be responsible for this? It’s possible that the aromatic oils of the trees affect us in a positive way. Test subjects showed that people sequestered in a hotel room that breathed in Hinoki Cypress vapors from a humidifier, showed a 20 percent increase in their NK levels. But there is also something calming about surrounding yourself with nature.
In light of this, vacations and weekends may need to be treated not only as a break from stress, but as medicinal retreats. Try to go places where there are trees and where you are near water for maximum benefit. Gardening can produce a similar effect. It doesn’t take a lot of time outside, either. Some research shows that only 5 minutes each day can be beneficial. Take as much time as you can in nature; it could have benefits for your digestive health, energy levels, immunity and much more!
Our Ultimate Candida Diet program includes a handbook devoted entirely to understanding the way that stress affects Candida sufferers. It includes a list of therapies that you can try at home to reduce your stress levels, boost your immunity, and get back to feeling normal again.