We all know how amazing being surrounded by nature can make us feel. It offers a sense of peace and comfort while restoring our energy and vitality. Nature heals, and forest bathing is one way to put that healing into practice.
Developed in Japan during the 1980s, the practice of forest bathing — or shinrin-yoku — earned its place among other preventive health care regimens. That recognition makes sense, considering its calming, rejuvenating, and restorative benefits.
It’s not exercise, such as hiking or jogging in the woods, but rather simply being present in nature. Forest bathing means to “bathe” in the atmosphere of a forest by taking it in through all of our senses. This practice helps bridge the gap between individuals and the natural world.
Key Benefits of Forest Bathing
Today, humanity is more detached from the natural world than ever before. The average American already spends 87 percent of their time indoors, according to a study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency. Moreover, by 2050, the United Nations estimates that 66 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Here’s the good news: Even a brief amount of time spent in nature each week can have an amazing impact on our overall health. Forest bathing provides a simple way to do just that. In fact, a growing body of scientific literature now shows evidence of its key health benefits, including:
Improved Mental Health
Exposure to trees improved the mental well-being of participants in a recent study from the United Kingdom — and these benefits remained evident even several hours after exposure. A separate study of 585 Japanese citizens showed those living in larger cities generally faced exposure to more stressors. It also found an association between urban living and a bigger risk of mental health problems. The bottom line: Detachment from nature can damage the human psyche and our quality of life.
Reduced Stress Levels
A forest bathing experiment conducted by the Center for Environment, Health, and Field Sciences at Japan’s Chiba University observed and measured the physical and mental effects this practice had on 280 people in their early 20s. Participants had lower cortisol levels, blood pressure, pulse rates, and heart rates in forest settings than in urban settings. This demonstrated an increased state of relaxation among the participants and a reduced likelihood of them experiencing high stress levels after a forest bath.
The air in forests is much cleaner and fresher than city air because trees continuously convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Forest air also contains compounds naturally released by trees, such as D-limonene, which can help reduce inflammation in our lungs. If you suffer from breathing problems like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), forest bathing may help lessen your symptoms over time.
Strengthened Immune System and Cancer Prevention
A study conducted by Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School measured the activity of natural killer (NK) cells in subjects’ immune systems before and after exposure to nature. Because NK cells respond to viral-infected cells and tumors, they play an important role in cancer prevention and immune system function. The study found a significant increase in NK cell activity within participants’ bodies during the week after a forest visit. The positive effects lasted up to a month after each weekend they spent in a forest.
How to Start Forest Bathing
Follow these easy steps to incorporate forest bathing into your regular schedule:
- Find a Location. Make sure the location suits you. If you live in the city, for example, you might choose a well-maintained park or a forest with fresh air and enough space to provide distance from noise and crowds. Alternatively, you might know a place in the countryside that brings back memories of your childhood or other happy times.
- Turn Off Your Phone. Ignore the temptation to check notifications because it will hinder your ability to absorb the natural beauty all around you and experience its healing effects.
- Be Present in the Moment. Sit in one spot — or walk quietly and calmly — while paying attention to the sights, sounds, and scents all around you. Listen to birds chirping and the wind rustling through the leaves. Look at the different trees and various other plants surrounding you. Breathe in the natural fragrance of the forest and its damp soil.
The Bottom Line
It’s easy to forget to slow down and simply be present for a moment in time after a busy week full of work, school, children, and more. Forest bathing provides an opportunity to find that peace and stillness. Because nature eases stress while promoting relaxation and clear thinking, it can refresh and rejuvenate you as well as enhance your mood and physical health.
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