On the weekend, my husband and I spent time communing with nature – walking and enjoying a beautiful forest and nature area. I have known for a long time now that my mental and physical health benefits from spending time in the great outdoors. Just a few hours helps me feel grounded, motivated and mentally refreshed for weeks.
And there’s science to back up these feelings and health benefits. Since the 1980s Japanese scientists have been studying the health benefits of forest bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku as it is called in Japan.
Forest bathing is simply the act of taking in the forest atmosphere during a leisurely walk. The practice itself is really about taking the opportunity to take time out, to slow down and connect with nature – to be mindfully present among the trees for the purpose of health and wellbeing.
Research studies on the health benefits of spending time in forest environments show that forest bathing positively creates calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system, reducing stress hormones and boosting the immune system.
Beneficial effects on human health include reductions in blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones; reduction in scores for anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion; and increases in scores for vigor, showing psychological effects as well. In fact after just 15 minutes of forest bathing blood pressure drops, stress levels are reduced and concentration improved. These findings suggest that forest environments can be helpful in preventing and reducing symptoms of lifestyle-related diseases.
Studies also suggest a preventive effect on cancers as forest bathing increases human natural killer (NK) activity, the number of NK cells, and the intracellular levels of anti-cancer proteins. (NK cells kill tumour cells and cells infected with viruses.)
For many people, modern life is sedentary, consistently stressful and devoid of time in nature. These lifestyle factors, among others, are significant contributors to each individual’s risk of developing chronic diseases, mental health issues, cancer and cardio-vascular disease.
And yet, the simple act of spending time among the trees regularly can help to reduce the risks and improve mental and physical health.
So what if you can’t get to a forest? Find a park, take your shoes off and feel the grass under your toes, feel the bark of a tree, breathe in deeply, gaze up into its leaves, appreciate, listen, and smell. Use all your senses!