Blackstone Parks Conservancy

Soaking in the Woods

Most people have heard by now that a walk in the woods, fashionably referred to as Forest Bathing, has measurable health benefits. You can see for yourself by strolling beside the Seekonk River in the Blackstone Park Conservation District, the 45-acre park tended by the Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC).

For active city dwellers focused on goals like efficiency and fitness, it can seem counterproductive to slow down and simply look and listen, as Forest Bathing leaders suggest. But there is considerable research data showing that a casual walk in the woods lowers blood glucose, blood pressure, and stress hormones.

“Shinrin Yoku,” which literally means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’, became part of the national health program in Japan over three decades ago. And now the data supporting the benefits of walking in the woods has persuaded some physicians across this nation to participate in ParkRx, prescribing time outdoors to patients who suffer from heart disease, diabetes, and other ailments.

In Rhode Island the effort to convince doctors to promote outdoor activity began in South County, where the Rhode Island Land Trust Council started a pilot of ParkRx. Council Director Rupert Friday says that international studies have revealed that being outside makes most people happy. “Humans are hard-wired” for this, he says.

Stress and a need for resilience is something both humans and nature share. In the Blackstone parks, BPC volunteers work to help nature recover from, and become better able to sustain, overuse and storms. Protecting plants and soils helps stabilize the highly erodible conservation district.

You don’t have to see a doctor to get a prescription for ParkRx. You can write it for yourself. It tastes good, doesn’t interfere with other prescriptions, and is guaranteed to work. No costly spas necessary.

If going slowly doesn’t appeal to you, if you want a light workout, try joining a work session to help the BPC refurbish trails on an evening or a Saturday morning once a month. People who participate in park maintenance—groups of volunteers from schools and workplaces and places of worship as well as individuals who see the BPC website notices—find the work deeply satisfying, even healthful. And it’s free!

Jane Peterson