I recently wrote about the health benefits of taking a simple walk in the woods. Trees release phytoncides, an airborne chemical that protects against various molds and bacteria. Coniferous trees emit phytoncides more Phytoncides than broad-leaved trees, which protect their foliage from microbes, but the chemical can also help to stimulate our own immune systems and reduce stress.
Recent medical studies have shown that a walk in the woods can have a measurable positive effect on human health and well-being. It can boost an individual's immune system. Even the sight of green trees have an affect.
Researchers in Pennsylvania have discovered that patients made faster recoveries after surgery, with less need for painkillers, when they could see grass and trees from their hospital bed. In contrast, patients who could only see a brick wall from their windows made slower recoveries, and needed more help with pain.
While this all sounds rather new age, like the psychic surgeons of Sedona, Arizona, it is not. Naturalistic medicines are a field of therapy as old as the earth. For eons, native peoples have utilized natural cures for their health and well being. They understood the benefits if not the science. When the Iroquois brewed spearmint tea to combat pain and fever, they didn't know that the leaves released the same chemical found in modern day aspirin. But they knew it worked.
The use of balsam pillows was an elemental form of modern aromatherapy. The practice was still being implemented as part of the cure for tuberculosis as recently as the 1950's. Science is finally getting around to verifying what many people have long known, that natural cures can work wonders.
Now comes even better news about the positive benefits of water. Water is a most unique medium, it can transform from liquid to hard ice, soft snow or cool fog to hot steam. It can move with unrelenting power or a gentle flow. And, it can move us physically and mentally.
From birth, we are endlessly exposed to water. It comprises nearly three-quarters of our bodies and even more of the earth's surface. Many of us begin or end our day in its fold, whether in a shower or a bath.
It has a calming affect, which is most notable on the water. I've often marveled at the ability of water to draw people together, to bring out the goodness in each other.
When passing other boaters on the lake, everyone always waves. In boats crammed in the locks for passage upstream or down, people will exchange greetings and thoughts on the day.
I still find it odd, that if a boat is broken down on the water, or an individual appears to be stranded along a remote shoreline, boaters will almost always rush to their aid.
Conversely, if that same family of broken down boaters were to be found with their car's hood open along the highway, the vast majority of other travelers would whiz right by. And pity the lone traveler, standing along the roadside. "We don't pick up hitchhikers," exclaims the same driver just back from piloting a boat that aided a stranded swimmer.
Water has strange affects on human behavior. Consider waterfalls, there are few scenes as captivating to humans. Like the coals of a campfire or the crashing of ocean surf, waterfalls are mesmerizing. They can hold the human mind in a seemingly hypnotic trance. There is no, man-made object that can induce such a mindless, blank stare.
Scientifically, this mind numbing, drool inducing, static stare is known as involuntary attention. It is also known as fascination. While words are incapable of fully explaining the allure of falling water, the attraction is undeniable.
Possibly it comes from some innate, primitive connection to earth's element. The ever changing nature of a waterfalls are similar to the coals of a fire and each scene generates comparable levels of intensity of interest.
It's a fact: we feel good and behave better when we are exposed to water. We are just better people, but, I wonder why?
Medical experts have been studying the basis for such claims in recent years and the state of West Virginia has even focused a tourism campaign around these scientific studies. State tourism officials have coined the term, "Waterfalling," to describe the health benefits of visiting waterfalls, lakes or seashores where pounding waves produce ions.
In nature, there exists both positively charged ions and negatively charged ions. These molecules can have powerful effects on human biology. In an odd juxtaposition of terms, positive ions have a negative effect and negative ions a positive effect.
Negative ions, which occur commonly throughout nature have been shown to have beneficial effects on human health. They reduce stress levels and can create an overall sense of well-being
Falling or crashing water creates negative ions which can be found in high concentrations after a rainstorm or after a lightning strike. The fresh smell in the air generated after a rainfall is actually the odor of negatively charged ions in the air.
Evidence shows that negative ions clean the air of dust, molds, bacteria, soot, pollen and household odors. Showers are actually an in-house ionize as they produce negative ions.
Positive ions are believed to have adverse effects on human health. Studies have shown they can inhibit ciliary motility, the cleaning mechanism in our respiratory tract, and increase the risk of infection.
Positive ions are found in high concentrations before a storm and in areas that have high outdoor air pollution. Anywhere along a busy highway or freeway is a great place to receive a dose of positive ions which can leave a person fatigued, irritable or even depressed.
Soaking up negative ions, which can be found in the highest concentration at the base of a waterfall has been proven to help people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and depression. The effects of waterfalling can also help to regulate levels of stress hormone while clensing the air.
In a study conducted by Dr. Felix Gad Sulman, MD, falling water was proven to be very helpful for sufferers of hay-fever and other seasonal allergies.
Other effects of Sulman's study indicated a decrease in respiratory rates indicating a relaxed state, decreased blood pressure, decreased skin temperature, increased metabolism and increased ciliary activity, decreased blood sedimentation rate and an increased resistance to infection.
Participants in the study expressed an overall feeling of well being and increased vitality as a result. Medical researchers have suggested waterfalling as an adjunctive therapy for individuals suffering from chronic rhinitis, sinusitis, migraines, insomnia, wound and burn healing, asthma, hayfever, emphysema, bronchitis and tension.
What does this information mean to the average local resident? The Adirondack Park contains more than a hundred peaks over 3,000 feet in elevation. Interwoven are more than 30,000 miles of streams and rivers. Locating a waterfall in the park is as easy as finding quills on a porcupine's behind.
In the spring, as rain and snowmelt pours off the Adirondack dome, the region comes alive with waterfalls cascading from mountain peaks. Before they are hidden by foliage, the abundance of waterfalls is more apparent now, than in any other season.
I've always known the falls were out there; they are the swimming holes of my youth. I visit them regularly in the summer, seeking the oxygen rich, holding waters that will keep trout active in the heat of the season.
But I never recognized the benefits waterfalls can have on my health. Not only are waterfalls restful, soothing and calming, but the process of discovering new falls can be as restorative as a fountain of youth. The search can rekindle a sense of adventure that most people haven't experienced since childhood.
So get out and find a falls that "No one has ever seen," it will do you good!
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org