Are you feeling a bit lethargic or anxious lately? I may have a remedy for you and the answer is literally at your feet.
But first a bit of ‘healthy-history’.
In the 1850s, acclaimed author and naturalist Henry D. Thoreau’s asserted his classic prescription of ‘Tonic of Wilderness’ for civilization and its discontents.
His essay Walden Pond; Life in the Woods, published in 1854, prompted a worldwide movement of ‘the natural forest benefits’ for good health and wellbeing.
Founding of the Long Branch Resort
Thirty years later, in 1883, Thomas John Wilkie, secretary of the Toronto Y.M.C.A., purchased the lush, densely forested acreage adjacent to Lake Ontario from James Eastwood for the Long Branch Resort and YMCA Boys camp in southern Etobicoke.
I am not sure if Wilkie was familiar with Thoreau’s writings but the paralleled logic destined Long Branch Park to become a mini mecca of promoting healthy ‘body, mind and spirit’.
Architecturally modeled on structures in Long Branch, New Jersey, there was the stunning Japanese Pagoda Hotel, fountain square, private Queen Anne and Jacobean villa rentals, a gymnasium, squash and tennis courts, a dancing and picnic Pavilion, lawn bowling and cricket, swimming, strolling in the woods, and even a Coney Island carousel and a water flume for the children.
‘Toronto’s Favourite Resort’ as it was advertised had all the amenities to encourage physical activity, proper diet (no alcohol) social engagement and relaxation.
But there was more.
The most abundant natural and free health asset that Long Branch Park boasted was the surrounding eco-therapeutic forest of majestic Oaks, Ash, Black Walnut, Maple, Pine and Spruce trees.
Early Development of Long Branch
In the 1910’s, Colonel Fredrick Burton Robins, a real-estate developer, embraced too, the tree rich lands of Long Branch and capitalized on it to promote the health benefits of ‘Pine Beach’ and ‘The Pines’ residential 50-foot lots.
“A Healthy Home is a Happy Home” – Colonel F.B. Robins.
The Health Benefits of Long Branch
Today there is a plethora of scientific evidence that ‘forest bathing’ as the Japanese have coined it, is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.
In the last eight years Japanese officials spent about $4 million dollars studying the physiological and psychological effects of forests and trees. Based on 48 therapy forest trails the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo measured the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells in the immune system before and after exposure to the woods. These cells provide rapid response to viral-infected cells and respond to tumor formation and are associated with improving the immune system and cancer prevention.
At the end of the study the trial participants had significant increases in NK cell activity and production.
Trees emit various essential oils in aerosol form. Generally called ‘phytoncide’, these oils protect the trees from germs and insects.
Not surprisingly, when visitors to the Long Branch Park strolled about or went exploring in the adjacent woods their inhaling of the phytoncide just didn’t make them feel fresher and better —it improved their overall immune system too.
Specific trees give off different types of eco-therapeutic aerosols and with corresponding health benefits. The familiar fragrance of Long Branch Park in the 1890s was bathed with the essence of pine and spruce. (like a Christmas Tree)
In Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s (internationally celebrated Ontario Botanist) book The Global Forest she high-lights about the Pinus species scent properties.
“The worldwide use of Pine scents, oils and extracts in Health Spas is fortified with scientific healthy benefits. For instance, on a sweltering summer day the pine tree will emit an odour that is detected at ground level. This scent is a medicinal mixture of various esters of pinosylvin. In other words, the pinosylvin acts as a natural antibiotic, helps the process of breathing (hence the feeling of fresh air) and is a mild narcotic. These natural pine aerosols have an anesthetic effect on the body, bringing on relaxation and peace of mind.”, wrote Beresford- Kroeger.
In another study conducted by Japan’s Chiba University, 280 subjects were measured for blood pressure heart rate and salivary cortisol (which increases with stress) before and after a 30-minute forest visit.
“Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than tree barren city environments” the study concluded.
Subjects were less ‘hyped’, their rest-and –digestive systems were more efficient, sympathetic nerve systems calmed, and they felt more rested and less inclined to stress after a walk in the woods.
It is no wonder that Thomas J. Wilkie, Colonel F.B. Robins made significant real estate investments in a Southern Etobicoke utopia.
To their credit, all the health-seeking patrons that visited Long Branch Park by the steamer-ship loads and later bought land is how Long Branch Village was established.
Compared to the coal soot, sanitary-compromised streets of Toronto, the pine tree air sweep, cleansing, natural eco-aromatherapy of the air canopy was simply irresistible.
No guess now, as to what my recommendation is. Treat yourself to a 30-minute walk (forest bath) in the greenest tree rich area you can find.
Happy Forest Bathing!
Bill Zufelt is a Director of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association and
Chairs the Association’s History and Culture Committee
P.S. Even in winter the trees still do their magic but at a slower rate and besides the 30-minute walk is time well invested in your health and wellbeing.
This article was originally published in The Etobicoke Lakeshore Press © Bill Wallace Zufelt 2019