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October 02, 2013
Boost your Immune System and Shake Off Stress by Taking a Walk in the Woods
MAYWOOD, Ill. – Work, home, even in the car, stress is a constant struggle for many people. But it’s more than just exhausting and annoying. Unmanaged stress can lead to serious health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
“The American lifestyle is fast-paced and productive, but it can be extremely stressful. If that stress is not addressed, our bodies and minds can suffer,” said Dr. Aaron Michelfelder, professor of Family Medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Our bodies need sleep to rejuvenate and if we are uptight and stressed we aren’t able to get the rest we need. This can lead to serious physical and mental health issues, which is why it’s extremely important to wind down, both body and mind, after a stressful day.
According to Michelfelder, one of best ways to unwind and reconnect after a stressful day is by taking a walk. Though any walking is good, walking in the woods or in nature has been proven to be even better at reducing stress and improving your health.
“When we get to nature, our health improves,” Michelfelder said. “Our stress hormones rise all day long in our bloodstream and taking even a few moments while walking to reconnect with our inner thoughts and to check in with our body will lower those damaging stress hormones. Walking with our family or friends is also a great way to lower our blood pressure and make us happier."
Research out of Japan shows that walking in the woods also may play a role in fighting cancer. Plants emit a chemical called phytoncides that protects them from rotting and insects. When people breathe it in, there is an increase in the number of “natural killer” cells , which are part of a person’s immune response to cancer.
“When we walk in a forest or park, our levels of white blood cells increase and it also lowers our pulse rate, blood pressure and level of the stress hormone cortisol,” Michelfelder said.
He also suggests reading, writing, meditating or reflecting to help calm the mind after long day. To help calm the body yoga and breathing exercises also are good.
“If you want to wind down, stay away from electronic screens as they activate the mind. Electronic devices stimulate brain activity and someone’s post on Facebook or a story on the evening news might cause more stress,” Michelfeder said.
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Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.