The perils of urban living

The perils of urban living

Darcy and I are traveling to the United States this week – this will be the first time Darcy has travelled internationally since he was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, he is understandably nervous.  Watch out for our travel diary where we share some of the ups and downs of traveling when you suffer with a chronic illness.

While away, we will be getting up to date with the very latest in health and wellness science, innovation and trends.  Please let us know if you have any health areas you would like us to explore while there.

When I travel, I always imagine myself living in the location I visit and then I come home with great relief at getting back to a slower pace of life.  Most of the world’s population lives in urban settings and to get anywhere rural, or semi-rural it’s at least a 30-minute drive or train trip.  

In the history of human civilization, cities are a radical new kind of habitat.  Much of human history reflects our ancestors living on sprawling savannas or within forested valleys.  These habitats are immensely different to habitats of built-up urban living and recent research has linked urban environments with increased risks for anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. 

Research has also shown that a solution to the urban malaise is time spent in nature – even if that time is only brief.   Have you heard of "forest bathing?" Sounds like some whacky new age thing, but it does have science behind it. 

Forest bathing originated in Japan and it's known as shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere or taking in the forest through our senses.  Forest bathing has beneficial effects on human health via the showering of forest aerosols which you breathe in.

The forest aerosols are made up with plant secondary metabolites, some of which are called terpenes. Terpenes consist of multiple isoprene units and are the largest class of organic compounds produced by forest plants. Some of the terpenes include α-pinene, β-pinene, camphor, camphene, sabinene, limonene, menthol, cymene, and myrcene.  Interestingly, myrcene is the terpene in cannabis which contributes to the relaxation effect. 

It may be the terpenes, or it may just be slowing down and reducing stimulation, but after a forest walk, our amygdala, the part of the brain wired to initiate the fight-flight response, has reduced activity.  Research published this month (link here) shows that participants who took a one-hour forest walk reported more attention restoration and enjoyment than those who went on an urban walk.

My most regular walking haunt in Dunedin is Ross Creek – a 10-minute walk from where I live and a place where I spent hours as a child catching lobsters before racing home to make it in time for dinner – sometimes I really had to sprint, Mum could be quite scary. 

I haven’t seen equivalent health data on time spent breathing in ocean air, but I suspect there are parallels – if you could bottle and sell the feeling of breathing in ocean spray, you would make some serious coin.  Blackhead, Brighton, St Clair and my new favourite, the amazing low tide walk from Doctors Point to Osborne and Purakanui – all on my doorstep.   We are lucky in New Zealand – nature is never far away.

When I travel, I’ll imagine myself living the tech-dream in a parallel life in San Francisco, inspired by the innovators and the innovations.  My mind will race, I’ll have ideas coming out of my ears – I will be able to live off the stimulation for months to come - but my amygdala will suffer.

Memories of cliffs and sea air, native birds and forest bathing will get me through the time spent in international airports.  I will take a good supply of Insight Brain Health lozenges to relieve my amygdala in times of stress (traveling with Darcy for two weeks will be a challenge) and Ross Creek will be on my agenda within hours of my return. 

Please contact us if you have any queries and check out our Insight Brain Health lozenges for calm, clarity and good sleep.

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