Forest bathing is widely practiced for health reasons. The concept is simple: to surround yourself in nature for the purpose of absorbing the healing properties of the forest. Adherents claim that it can lower blood pressure, slow the heart rate and reduce the levels of harmful hormones such as cortisol. Overall it has a calming effect.
But does it really work or is it the product of someone’s imagination? Research shows that the effects of forest bathing are real and demonstrable. A Russian scientist began to study forest bathing in the 1920’s, working on the theory that the “aromas of the forest” strengthen our immune systems. Subsequent study has shown that trees emit an organic, antimicrobial volatile compound that our bodies absorb and which reduces inflammation and helps us fight off germs.
So how to practice forest bathing? First, find a peaceful wooded area where you can linger for 20 minutes daily. When you enter that quiet forest, walk slowly and stop often, listening and observing. This is not a time for your daily jog – vigorous exercise defeats the purpose. Instead immerse your senses in the sights and sounds of nature while you’re absorbing that healthy aroma of the forest. The nearby presence of water enhances the effect.
Of interest to those of us who live in southwest Florida, modern research has determined that the trees which give us the greatest benefits in forest bathing are all varieties of cypress trees. CREW’s Bird Rookery Swamp Trail is an ideal place to practice forest bathing. Surrounded by cypress trees and plenty of water, you leave feeling refreshed.
On Wednesday, May 8th, 2013, CREW Volunteer George Luther was selected as the winner in the “Best Innovative Idea” category at the Collier County/Paradise Coast Tourism Awards ceremony. George was nominated by CREW staff for his Nature’s Peace at CREW program for Alzheimer patients and their caregivers. His nomination beat out 18 others submitted for the same category.
Here is George’s nomination description:
“George Luther came to us at the CREW Land and Water Trust in the fall of 2011 with the idea of leading hikes at the newly opened CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail off Immokalee Road in Naples. After several months of successful hikes, and a chance encounter with an Alzheimer patient and her husband on one of those hikes, George came up with the idea to design a special guided walk for early-onset Alzheimer patients and their caregivers. He presented the idea to CREW staff and later to the Alzheimer Support Network in Naples. With the approval of that network and the CREW Trust, “Nature’s Peace at CREW” was born.
George designed the walk, planned the activities, and began connecting Alzheimer patients with nature. The guided walk consists of a very slow-paced stroll along the path of hard-packed crushed shell/limestone and the boardwalk at Bird Rookery Swamp. Along the walk, George stimulates the patients’ senses of touch, sight, smell and hearing by helping them observe natural objects that include plants, flowers, trees, water features, birds, mammals, reptiles, and butterflies. The accompanying caretakers get a brief respite from their daily duties of patient care while enjoying their loved one’s interaction with nature. George’s plan also incorporates the use of other CREW volunteers so patients have a more personalized experience. George welcomes each patient, designs and makes a special name tag necklace for each patient to wear, and provides them with walking sticks.
Brenda Brooks, CREW’s Executive Director is eager to have these special visitors at CREW. “Hikers, photographers, mountain bikers and birders are just a few of the groups that enjoy CREW. Now, these guided walks will allow Alzheimer patients to benefit as well. Research has shown that Alzheimer patients benefit greatly when interacting with nature, and we’re thrilled to offer the opportunity for these patients to engage in healing walks at CREW”.
The first two walks in October and November demonstrated the power of the experiences. Patients who arrived with heads down, silent and closed off, left laughing and joking and happy. Caregivers thanked George for giving their loved ones a chance to remember their childhoods and enjoy a day of peace in nature.This program exposes a new user group to an often overlooked Collier County resource – the Bird Rookery Swamp Trails – which are free public lands and open to the public year round.
This innovative program is the only one of its kind in southwest Florida – bringing Alzheimer’s patients into the wild to help awaken memories and calm the mind and spirit. George is modest about his role, but the program never would have begun without his inspiration, dedication, and leadership.”
We are proud of George and very happy to have him on board as a volunteer for CREW. His presence at Bird Rookery Swamp helps all the visitors more fully enjoy their experience there.
See a News-Press article mentioning George’s award here.
Congratulations, George, and thank you for your dedication and passion for CREW and the community!