Lets get forest bathing!
Much research has been conducted on the benefits of taking an immersive walk in nature, with a canopy of trees over head and the sounds of wildlife around you. - its a flora-fauna experience. Today I’m going to take you on a journey into forest bathing, its benefits, and the science to support it. Let’s get started!
What is Forest Bathing?
Forest bathing has nothing to do with having a bath (although swimming in a stream could be part of the experience!). It’s about being present in a natural forest environment, slowing down and immersing yourself in nature. Forest bathing is a mindful nature experience, also called ‘shinrin-yoku’it originated in Japan in the 1980’s as a way to increase overall health. Let your senses ‘tune in’ to the sights, sounds, smells and touch of the natural environment around you. There are even guided tours available!
To forest bathe involves a slow walk in a forest environment, giving yourself time to really notice things like what else is in motion within the forest, what does your body feel like, what does the ground beneath your feet feel like, and how does your emotional self feel when connected to a natural environment. It can also involve finding a quiet spot to sit and create awareness both of what is within you and what is around you.
It's so easy to practice mindfulness in nature. I can vouch for it!
Without having heard of the specific benefits (but feeling the urge to ‘go bush’) on first arriving from the city, I had ‘a moment’ standing in my field. I became overwhelmed by the stillness all around me. Looking up at the huge old gum trees I was in awe of how long they’d been standing there. I felt like a very small part of something greater. It was a wonderful moment.
Let’s take a look at what researchers have found.
An early study into forest bathing by researcher Yoshifumi Miyazaki yielded some amazing results. He was able to show ‘that people who spent 40 minutes walking in a cedar forest had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol’ (1) when compared with 40minutes of walking in a typical indoor experimental environment, thus finding physiological relaxation can be achieved by forest bathing.
A more recent review of 64 forest bathing studies concluded that 'Nature therapy' should be considered as a method to promote health and as a potential 'universal health model' for the reduction of modern-day 'stress-state' and 'technostress' (2).
We currently live most of our lives in a 'switched-on' state, indoors and surrounded by technology. Yet, we instinctively feel calmer, more at peace and more grounded in nature. Having studies to support these instincts makes for a strong argument for both the value of innate knowing and that of getting out into nature for our health and wellbeing.
Not only does forest bathing reduce stress, but it also appears to have a regulatory affect on our blood pressure and metabolic activity. A recent study found that day trips to a forest park environment significantly reduce blood pressure, thought to be due to a reduction in sympathetic nerve activity (3). Our sympathetic nervous system drives the stress response, so the relaxing effect of forest bathing can have profound effects on symptoms made worst by stress, including on cardiovascular health.
Mental Health Improvements
Forest bathing is also gaining traction as a mood boosting tool. Our moods are intrinsically linked to our nervous system, so it makes sense that a reduction in stress would have positive mood boosting effects. A 2007 study looked at this theory and showed that forest environments could be viewed as a therapeutic landscape, and forest bathing may indeed help reduce psychosocial stress, such as depression and anxiety (4). What’s more, a 2017 review of forest bathing effects on mood (5) supported the many health benefits, and specifically the significant reduction of depression symptoms.
Forest bathing has been shown to improve immune cell function. This is due to a specific compound called a phytoncide, which is effectively wood essential oil. The phytoncide induces our immune system to produce more natural killer cells, which are the cells that promote our immune response and increase its functionality (6). Cancer, auto immune disease and infections are all improved when natural killer cell activity is high so there's heaps of potential for it's use as a therapy for chronic illness and complex health issues.
Forest bathing is an ideal activity to improve your health. You may have experienced the benefits of forest therapy and how it feels when you're immersed in nature. There's emerging evidence to support benefits for stress reduction and depression, reducing blood pressure and increasing immune function.
It could be said that the human body needs a forest!
Whilst it's early days for forest therapy research, the benefits of simply spending time in nature are potentially limitless. So watch this space.
2. Hansen MM, Jones R, Tocchini K. Shinrin-Yoku(Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(8):851. Published 2017 Jul 28. doi:10.3390/ijerph14080851
3. Li Q, Otsuka T, Kobayashi M, Wakayama Y, Inagaki H, Katsumata M, HirataY, Li Y, Hirata K, Shimizu T, Suzuki H, Kawada T, Kagawa T. Acute effects of walking in forest environments on cardiovascular and metabolic parameters. EurJ Appl Physiol. 2011 Nov;111(11):2845-53. doi: 10.1007/s00421-011-1918-z. Epub2011 Mar 23. PMID: 21431424.
4. Morita E, Fukuda S, Nagano J, Hamajima N,Yamamoto H, Iwai Y, Nakashima T, Ohira H, Shirakawa T. Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction. Public Health. 2007Jan;121(1):54-63. doi
5. Lee I, Choi H, Bang K-S, Kim S, Song M, Lee B.Effects of Forest Therapy on Depressive Symptoms among Adults: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2017; 14(3):321. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14030321
6. Li Q, Nakadai A, Matsushima H, Miyazaki Y,Krensky AM, Kawada T, Morimoto K. Phytoncides (wood essential oils) induce human natural killer cell activity. Immuno pharmacol Immunotoxicol.2006;28(2):319-33. doi: 10.1080/08923970600809439. PMID: 16873099.