The Health Benefits of Forest Bathing
Forest bathing, also called shinrin-yoku or just “walking in nature,” offers an antidote to stress. The practice involves spending two hours a week in a natural setting where you can walk slowly and use all of your senses.
You don’t need to travel far – even an urban park can be a good place for forest bathing.
Research suggests that forest bathing helps to reduce tension, anxiety, and stress, improve mood, increase focus and creativity, and help to heal the body. One study showed that patients hospitalized for a mental health illness spent more time with a view of nature through a window, and their recovery was faster than those who did not have such views.
The practice of shinrin-yoku encourages you to slow down and notice your surroundings, using all your senses. This might mean noticing the colors of the foliage and sky, smelling tree blossoms and damp soil; listening to the sounds of wind through the trees, water running or birds chirping; and feeling textures by touching bark, leaves, and moss.
Spending just 120 minutes a week in nature, whether forest bathing or simply walking in your local park, can significantly improve your mood and mental well-being. But if that feels like an impossible task, McEwan suggests starting small with five or 10 minutes a day, building up to those 120 minutes a week.
To get the most out of your forest bathing, try to avoid distractions such as talking or listening to music. Instead, turn off your phone, find a quiet place without many people, and relax. In addition to the physical benefits, Phyllis Look, who runs the training program for certified forest therapy guides at Wildwoods Wellness in Hawaii, suggests thinking less and feeling more, which allows you to connect with the natural world. Try to find a spot in the landscape that makes you feel wonderful, such as a beautiful waterfall or a mountain stream, and make that your “sit spot” where you focus on experiencing that moment.
Forest bathing can help with stress by lowering the amount of stress hormones in your body. It can also boost your immune system by causing a 50% increase in natural killer cells, which are important for fighting off diseases like cancer. These effects can be achieved by simply walking through a wooded area or viewing nature from a window. In fact, a study done in 2007 showed that just looking at nature out a window reduced hospital stay by a day!
To get the full benefit of forest bathing, choose a location that is heavily wooded with minimal noise and distractions. You should be able to walk at your own pace and spend time enjoying the scents of the trees, the sounds of flora and fauna around you, and feeling the soft soil on your feet or the leaves in your hand. The ideal forest for this activity is a shady one with little wind, cool temperatures, and minimal insects. To ensure that you’re not distracted by swatting at bugs, wear appropriate clothing and bring all-natural bug spray.
The beauty of the forest is calming, inspiring, and uplifting. It can help reduce feelings of anxiety, anger, and depression while promoting feelings of happiness, serenity, and joy. This can be attributed to the fact that forests are a source of oxygen and provide many healing compounds such as phytoncides, which have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
In a study that involved working-age people with depressive tendencies, participants reported less negative emotions and better relaxation after engaging in forest bathing. The improvement in their mental health may be a result of the sensory stimulation offered by this activity, including the aromatherapy from the plants; the sounds of birds chirping and water flowing; the visual stimuli of the flora and fauna, and the textures of the soft soil or leaves; and the psychosocial benefits such as mindfulness and improved self-esteem.
The quiet, sensory experience of forest bathing can improve a person’s mood. Phyllis Look, a certified forest therapy guide with Forest Bathing Hawaii, says that it can help alleviate depression and chronic stress. It can also reduce the effects of high blood pressure and heart rate variability. According to research published in 2019 in Scientific Reports (opens in new tab), participants who took a day trip to the forest saw lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure than those who didn’t spend time outdoors.
The same study found that participants who had depressive tendencies saw greater improvements in their negative mood state POMS items than those who didn’t have depressive tendencies. These results indicate that forest bathing can significantly reduce psychological distress for working-age people with depressive tendencies, but more studies are needed to validate this finding.
It can be hard to get enough outdoor time, especially for those who live in urban areas with few green spaces or who are busy with work and family life. However, even small changes in your daily routine can add up over the course of a week or two and make a difference in your health.
Try to incorporate a few minutes of forest bathing into your day by walking in a park or by taking a break at the office to sit outside and look out the window. Bringing a plant into your home or office can also give you the benefits of spending time in nature. You can practice mindfulness while you’re doing this by slowing down, focusing on what you see, smell, and hear, and being aware of your senses. You can also try to connect with other humans who are practicing with you by engaging in quiet conversation, but be careful not to let your conversations distract you from being fully present and experiencing the nature around you.
For many, getting good sleep is a major struggle. And it may be that the secret to better sleep lies in nature. One study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that spending time in forests or woodlands lowered participants’ blood pressure and heart rate, and increased their parasympathetic nervous system activity, which leads to relaxation and better sleep.
Aside from the physiological benefits, forest bathing can also help to reduce stress and improve mood. This is due to the relaxing properties of the scents and sights of nature. For example, the aroma of conifer trees contains terpenes that promote calmness and decrease cortisol levels. Additionally, the smells of rosemary and frankincense can help to lower stress and anxiety levels.
While forest bathing is becoming increasingly popular, this practice has actually been around for centuries. In Japan, shinrin-yoku is known as “taking in the atmosphere of the forest” and has been shown to provide a variety of psychological and physical health benefits, such as decreased stress levels, improved mood states, and feelings of awe and connection.
To practice forest bathing, find a natural area with minimal distractions. Then, take a slow walk and use all of your senses to experience the surroundings. Listen to the sounds of nature, touch the leaves and dirt (but watch out for poison ivy!), and even breathe in the scents of the trees and flowers. It’s a great way to fully connect to nature, which everyone can benefit from, no matter the season or weather.
Experts agree that anyone can reap the benefits of a little nature therapy. The key is to find a way that feels comfortable for you, such as a walking meditation with a calming soundtrack or an app like Treequility or Calm. But the most important thing is to start small — even just five or 10 minutes of nature a day can make a big difference, McEwan says.
In a forest bath, you get to smell and touch plants, listen to their sounds, and be completely present in nature. It’s an excellent antidote to our tech-saturated world. The practice originated in Japan and is called shinrin yoku, but it has now gained global popularity. The practice of walking and relaxing in the woods is backed by decades of research that shows numerous health benefits including reduced stress levels, mood improvements, lowered blood pressure, and increased energy.
The phytoncides, which are emitted by trees and other plants in order to protect themselves from insects and germs, have been shown to boost the human immune system. Studies led by Japanese scientist Qing Li found that Forest Bathing increases the activity of Natural Killer cells, which help to fight diseases and infections. Regular Forest Bathing can even prevent certain diseases such as cancer and help to reduce the symptoms of existing ones.
A walk in the woods also increases adiponectin levels, which are responsible for fat metabolism, weight loss, and glucose control. Studies found that participants who spent time in the forest, on average, had higher levels of adiponectin than those who did not spend time in nature.
While a trip to the forest is a great idea for your overall well-being, you can also take part in Forest Therapy at home or in your local park or green space. As a general rule, experts recommend trying to spend at least 120 minutes in nature per week. This can be broken down into smaller increments such as five or 10-minute walks, or even just standing outside for a few moments of quiet observation. The important thing is to do it consistently!