Chia-Pin (Simon) Yu

Forest Therapy research in Taiwan’s nature and urban parks: benefits on brain activity and cognition

Chia-Pin (Simon) Yu has a Ph.D. and works as an Associate Professor of the School of Forestry and Resource Conservation at National Taiwan University, as Deputy Director of the Experimental Forest at National Taiwan University and Fulbright Scholar, T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University

He is a benchmark in Forest Therapy around the globe, and smiles remembering when a friend got him out of depression with surfing. The ocean and subtropical forest he grew up in shaped him into a researcher concerned with elderly’s health through forest bathing. He has come to some significant results regarding how nature improves cognition and general mental and physical health. 

During the I Global Summit Science, Nature and Health, he will address „The effects of Forest Therapy on Cognitive Performance and Mental Health in Older Adults”.

Riding the waves of health

“I was born in a city but I spent most of my time during childhood in Kenting, a rural area where my farmer uncle lived, with ocean, creek, and subtropical national park located in south Taiwan. It was a wonderful time, that place is like heaven. 

“We climbed trees, found crabs in the river, and there was my first connection with nature. Later on, during my senior year at college, I experienced a family accident that developed into depression syndrome, and my friend took me to surf. Depressive symptoms made me lose memory, lose sleep, and my physical and mental health wasn’t good at that time, but after surfing it changed. During surfing I felt that it was beautiful outside and that I had to focus on my activity. There is more like mindfulness training and my mental health went well.

“I found outdoor activity connecting with nature is good for human health and I decided to pursue my doctoral degree in this field. That’s why I went to the US to study nature and recreation. I spent five and half years in the US and I was lucky to return to Taiwan and get a job in the National Taiwan University, which is one of the best universities in Taiwan. 

“I got an offer from the Forestry Resource Conservation department, so I combined my expertise with this Department. I looked at literature and saw there is a field to talk about forest and human health. We call it Forest Therapy in the forestry field and in tourism, Wellness tourism. So my research focuses on Nature, Recreation and Human Health”. 

The focus on research and aging

“I followed this track and studied for 11 years to bring people to nature during the Forest Therapy practice, seeing how nature changes their mind and body. For example, balanced blood pressure, improvement on the immune system, the brain waves, beta waves go down, alpha waves go up… Nature contributes to cognition performance, and we also see improvement on mental health. Negative emotions decrease and the positive ones increase. We see the level of creativity improves after a 3-day 2-night Forest Therapy camp that is quite fascinating and significant results in my research. 

“Considering the development of forest therapy, I don’t see any resistance, the government and institutions are supportive. Taiwan is an aging society, more and more people are getting old, so finding a way to prevent aging and increase mental health and physical health is a huge topic in Taiwan. 

“I focused on Forest Therapy starting on the middle age and elderly groups. I got support from the Forestry Bureau, and funding from the National Science Foundation. I also had a lot of support and also from Harvard University, we are doing collaborations about how nature contributes to human health”. 

Reflections of nature

“During the (I Global) Summit I will talk about a very interesting topic, we used urban forestry. Cognitive decline is an issue in aging society. So we developed a 12 week Forest Therapy intervention to improve senior’s cognition. We scan their brains using MRI, examine subjects’ cognitive performance and see how the interventions change their cognition. It is an ongoing project, we finished the first data collection but now we see their emotions getting better, their creativity increasing, and improvements on cognition health.  

„We also developed Taiwan’s forest therapy certificate and courses. With Taiwan Forestry Bureau support, we are training Forest Therapists. 

“One day I got a reflection of a senior subject from one of our research on urban parks. He told me: ‘I’ve been to the urban park every day but thank you, your team led me to see the differences, in the past I couldn’t see details in nature, now I can recognize the beauty of nature’. He was there but his mind wasn’t there. ‘There are so many details in nature I enjoy that so much’. That is totally payoff, I’m so happy hearing that”. 

“Another time I brought a student to climb one of the tallest mountains in Taiwan, more than 3 thousand meters, where you can see the spectacular view and you realize they have been over there for a million years. Your confusion and depression in this place means nothing, your anxiety is nothing. I can see it was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had. 

“I am so lucky to have the opportunity to serve as a scholar in Harvard University, at the School of Public Health. I see different investigations over there and I’m lucky for making a good connection with the supersmart colleagues over there”.

 

Ph: Courtesy Simon (Chia-Pin) Yu 

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