Paul Andersen: A naturally affordable health care plan |

Paul Andersen: A naturally affordable health care plan

When a 31-year-old Japanese woman named Miwa Sado, an aspiring newscaster, died of heart failure in October, her death brought to question the strident Japanese work ethic. Sado’s work-life imbalance is a common ailment in Japan.

“By 2015 more than 2,000 suicides and 96 deaths by brain and heart illnesses were linked to it,” Time magazine reported, revealing that cultural norms compel many Japanese to martyr themselves to their work.

Many first-world nations promote the same willful self-destruction for career advancement and material status. Only a few are learning that the traditional medical approach to resolving this crisis is misguided.

The New York Times recently reported that Apple, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants are advancing profitable “health” apps for a sickened population: “Tech companies want a bigger share of the more than $3 trillion spent annually on health care in the United States.”

This high-tech approach is ironic given that millions suffer ill health because of too much tech. Capitalizing on illness is profitable, but there’s a far better alternative.

Imagine a free health care plan where everyone is their own practitioner, where a prescription includes a pair of hiking boots, where an outing in the woods, fields, streams, lakes, mountains, deserts and seashores is the best long-term medical prescription.

Welcome to the natural approach to health care, a veritable panacea of holistic physical, mental and spiritual benefits that are available, affordable and mostly for free.

It may sound airy-fairy, but nature is the future for sustainable health care. The main impediments are the status quo medical profession and the entrenched moneyed interests of Big Pharma.

The Japanese are pushing the curve with “Shinrin-yoku.” Translated literally to “forest bathing,” Shinrin-yoku is a medical prescription for stressed-out Japanese who are victimized by their grueling work ethic.

Someone like Miwa Sado could have sought help for stress, anxiety, sleeping disorders, heart palpitations, etc. Her physician would have run her through more of a psychological than a physical exam in an effort to get to the source of her work-induced disease.

The common diagnosis would have been what the Japanese call Karoshi or, “work to death.” Sado probably suffered from a poor diet, unhealthy eating habits and an overdose of screen time from multitasking on numerous electronic devices. She didn’t exercise and had little or no contact with nature, and especially with fresh air.

Rather than flooding Sado’s system with meds to cloak her symptoms in the style of typical Western medicine, the doctor’s prescription would have called for immersion in a Shinrin-yoku forest.

The Japanese have conserved old-growth forests for this very purpose. These sacred groves are rich in biodiversity and especially rich in fragrant native plants. Science is beginning to prize these plants for healing qualities that reduce cortisol and for phytoncides, the measurable antibacterial aerosols that emanate from plants.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that, according to proven science, can be reduced by exposure to nature in a Shinrin-yoku preserve, a city park, or a simple garden.

“Civilization can kill us,” warns Florence Williams, author of “The Nature Fix,” who offers a powerful argument for health care in nature. “Studies show that natural environments make us healthier, more creative, more empathetic and more apt to engage with the world and with each other. Nature is good for civilization.”

Army veteran Stacy Bare told an Aspen audience the same thing last month when he explained how Aspen Skiing Co. could be considered a health care provider because skiing induces a boost to health and vigor.

Regular exposure to nature, especially wilderness, is proven to reduce heart disease, dementia and depression, something Huts for Vets has practiced for five years. Under a nature prescription, sporting goods stores and nature programs like the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies become RX providers.

In Japan, a $100 million forest healing complex is being developed to provide a necessary balance to their insane urban stressors and to help victims of the excessive national work ethic that is killing people like Miwa Sado.

The nature approach is slowly gaining traction in the U.S. where, hopefully, there will be enough wild lands left when public health benefits are finally understood.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at

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