Chances are you've felt the benefits of being out in nature and how it makes you feel. The scent of the trees, the sounds of the forest, the clean fresh air, the sunlight playing through the leaves, the touch of the earth beneath your feet — all these things provide you with a sense of comfort and rejuvenation.
These nature experiences can ease your worry and stress, help you to think more clearly, and promote your ability to relax. Being in the forest can restore your mood, refresh your spirit, and reinvigorate you giving you an energy boost and a clearer mind. These are all reasons why “forest bathing” has become a popular wellness trend with science-proven benefits.
What Is Forest Bathing?
If you haven’t heard about forest bathing just yet, your initial reaction might be that it’s referring to taking a swim in a creek or a stream in the middle of the forest. While that can certainly be a forest bathing activity, it’s not what forest bathing really is at its core.
Forest bathing has its origins in Japan, where a practice known as "forest bathing" or shinrin-yoku, developed in the 1980’s. To understand the essence of forest bathing, it’s helpful to dissect the phrase: shinrin-yoku. In Japanese, “shinrin” stands for "forest" and “yoku” stands for "bath." Therefore, shinrin-yoku means taking the forest in through your senses or bathing in the forest atmosphere.
In a nutshell, forest bathing refers to being in nature and connecting deeply to it through your senses of:
By opening up your senses, you can bridge the gap between you and nature to promote wellness and mindfulness.
Benefits of Forest Bathing
There are many specific benefits of forest bathing supported by research, including:
1. Lowering Blood Pressure
In a 2016 meta study published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found shinrin yoku, or forest bathing, helped reduce blood pressure. Lower blood pressure helps keep your heart healthy, which can help guard against cardiovascular problems, like strokes, angina and heart attacks.
2. Boosting the Immune System to Prevent Disease Development
The forest's plants and trees emit substances known as phytoncides (wood essential oils). These have been shown to boost the immune system, in additon to helping trees and plants protect themselves from harmful germs and insects. A Japanese scientist, Qing Li, conducted studies that showed how forest bathing increases natural killer cell activity in individuals. At least some of this effect came from phytoncides.
Qing Li has been practicing shinrin yoku research for years. The natural killer cell effects seem to last for around 30 days, and they help fight disease. Therefore, the studies conclude forest bathing regularly might have a preventative effect on disease development.
3. Reducing the Risk of Chronic Illness
The journal Environmental Research published a new meta-analysis finding that individuals who spend more time out in green spaces have substantially less risks for numerous chronic illnesses. It's likely there are a few mechanisms behind this connection, however, one of the interesting ones has to do with the trees' phytochemicals and humans inhaling them.
4. Reducing Stress and Enhancing Natural Killer Cells
According to the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, Japanese scientists, back in 2009, published a small study that also showed by inhaling phytoncides (the tree-derived compounds), it decreased concentrations of stress hormones in people (both men and women) and enhanced white-blood cell activity (natural killer cells).
5. Decreasing Depression Levels
In a 2017 review in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, it was concluded "forest therapy" is an effective and emerging intervention for reducing adults' levels of depression.
Both the physiological and psychological benefits of being in nature are gaining the attention of scientists all over the world. While researchers may need to study forest bathing more before physicians start routinely prescribing it as therapeutic medicine, it’s clear that taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of nature does wonders for your mind, body, and soul.
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