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Take a Dip in the Forest Air

Heart-felt exercise is as simple as taking a walk in the woods.

It doesn't take much, but it does take something to live a healthy lifestyle. According to a recent report by the German health insurance company DKV and the Cologne University for Sports Studies, one in seven Germans lives an unhealthy lifestyle, which is defined as having too little movement and too little nutritional care.

So how can we improve our habits? By taking it one step at a time. Literally.

Thirty minutes of exercise a day would take care of more than our share of health issues (whether in the United States, Germany or elsewhere). According to the Mayo Clinic web site, aerobic exercise can not only increase your stamina, reduce your stress and strengthen your heart, it can also ward off viral illnesses, keep excess weight off and keep your mind sharp.

In essence, movement keeps you young. Eating what I like to call ‘things from outside', that is foods in their original state, can also contribute to your longevity.

The other day I stumbled upon a New York Times article about forest bathing (also referenced in Wednesday Martin's Stepmonster blog, "Gone Fishin': Why You Can't Afford to Skip Another Vacation"). Before you think you've got to grab a zinc tub and some Ivory soap and head for the woods, think again. Forest bathing refers to the Japanese term, "Shinrin-yoku", which means to literally surround yourself with forest air. The airborne natural chemicals, phytonides, that plants emit to stave off insects and strengthen their immune system have been proven to increase our natural killer cell (aka white blood cell) activity. In a 2007 study of men who took a two-hour forest walk twice a day, their white blood cells increased by 50% in just a few days! Japan's Chiba University conducted another study that found the forest air let to lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, a lower pulse rate and lower blood pressure. Now those are even more reasons to strap on your boots and go for that nature walk.

Although the University of Sussex claims a nature walk reduces stress only by 42% (as determined by pulse rate) while reading just six minutes brings your stress levels down by 68%, the side benefits of walking through the woods are very compelling.

So the next time you find you're teetering toward burnout, push your chair back, walk away from your computer and head for the wooded hills for a slow walk.

Take a dip in the forest air. Your heart will thank you for it.

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