These days, people are all too often stuck in front of a screen both at work and at home. When we are at work it is our computer, and at home it’s the television, and we’re never really unplugged, or turned off. Some think that watching TV is relaxing, but it actually isn’t, it doesn’t allow the brain to drop into alpha waves or theta waves which are the ones responsible for true relaxation. While watching television you’re still alert, aware and definitely not relaxed. Research has even shown that this constant feeling of being plugged in has made people more aggressive, narcissistic, distracted, anxious, stressed and depressed. All of these things lead naturally to being overweight, which causes its own share of health problems.
Wilderness, South Africa is a place that exists seemingly outside time because it does not take its cues from the fast-paced, constantly plugged-in world. Life here operates slowly and steadily, with naught but the sound of the lapping waves of the ocean and seabirds. It is a place where a person can truly relax, and there is no better location in Wilderness for that, than at On the Beach – a boutique hotel in the heart of Wilderness that is actually directly on the sand itself. A writer by the name of Florence Williams took a trip to the woods of Japan seeking answers to how nature can lower blood pressure, battle depression, remove stress and even prevent diseases like cancer. The Japanese people have long known the benefit of nature, and they even have a word for the immersion in nature called, “shinrin-yoku” which translates to “forest-bathing”. In South Africa, there is no better place for this than Wilderness.
To go back to Japan as an example means to understand why it is used as one. Japan has the 3rd highest suicide rate in the world. They tend to work longer hours and have immense pressure from work and school to be the best, and not to bring dishonor on their families. This results in a constant and endless stream of stress that needs some way out. Residents of Tokyo have even created a term to describe their packed like sardines way of life, “Tsukin-jigoku” which translates to, “commuter hell is really the truth”. Japan has responded to the need for forest therapy by providing 48 official forest therapy trails to help people living there improve anxiety and depression issues, but also to boost empathy. A scientist named Yoshifumi Miyazaki is head of a team that is tracking what it can do to us on a cellular level, and to our neurons.
Miyazaki says that over human evolution we have spent almost all our time in nature, so our bodies are still adapted to it, even if we’re lost among the cement forests of cities. He says that the feeling of comfort can be attained more easily if we are synchronized with our environment. His study has taken more than 600 subjects into the woods and he’s found some incredible results. Alongside Juyoung Lee from Chiba University, they have found a 7 percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, a 12.4 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 5.8 percent decrease in heart rate, and a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure. Participants also reported on a self-inventory, better moods and lower feelings of anxiety.
Harvard Health Publications from well-respected medical university Harvard University has also released articles detailing the benefits of being outside. In summary, it says that staying inside and within the city, living that busy non-stop life is no good for our health. People were never meant to live in boxes, kept away from the outdoors. We have to get out and enjoy nature for better health. We can see vitamin D levels rise as we soak up the sunshine, and get more exercise which helps combat heart disease among many other things. An interesting study tested stationary cyclists for feelings of exertion by showing them different coloured screens. Those who had a green screen felt they had exerted the least amount of effort, which is really no surprise since nature is green and it is what our bodies crave.
Japan has much in common with the rest of the modern world. They, like the rest of us, have a hard time just shutting it all off, and really getting away. Since most places don’t have therapy forests like Japan does, it falls on us to book a holiday where we can actually escape it all, and absorb the goodness of nature and all her beauty. On the Beach is able to bring you into the heart of Wilderness, and also give you sumptuous five-star comfort that is unmatched anywhere else. Do your health a favor and get away from it all, and reconnect with nature.