In a world where we’re increasingly connected online and bombarded with information and noise, many of us feel overwhelmed. Periodically taking time out of our busy schedules and disconnecting from the information overload is always a good idea. This is the core principal behind forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, as the Japanese call it.
Despite what the phrase 'forest bathing' suggests, you needn't pack your swimwear – it doesn't equate directly to taking a dip in a woodland lake or rive (although it definitely could include that!).
You see, forest bathing encompasses everything about slowing down and immersing yourself fully in nature and greenery. And, in case you have time constraints and can’t possibly camp in the woods for an entire day, spending time in a forest or lush green area for even two to three hours really can be beneficial. In fact, science says so.
Furthermore, you don’t have to be a wilderness expert to take up forest bathing – it’s recommended for anyone who wishes to unwind and feel rejuvenated. Personally, spending time in forests has worked wonders for me, in terms of well-being, mental health, and even career growth. I find that taking some away from the daily grind to relax amidst nature sparks my creativity, thus enabling me to put forward my best work.
Most cultures have long understood how spending time amidst nature can benefit one’s well-being and health. The Japanese were quick to embrace this practice, having seen some of the physiological and psychological benefits of forest bathing.
Forest bathing essentially entails ‘bathing’ in the surrounding of a forest, wood, or any other dense green space. And there’s a lot more to it than just a sweaty hike intended to raise one’s heart-rate: the practice involves fully awakening the senses of smell, hearing, sight and touch. Take a small hike as you feel the gentle breeze on your face. Notice the smells of pine, cedar and eucalyptus wafting through the woods. Sit on a rock and pay attention to the sounds of the forest – be it birdsong, the hum of bees, or the gurgle of a brook. It’s all about disconnecting from your inbox or Facebook feed and connecting with your natural surroundings.
There's substantial scientific evidence to suggest that spending time in woodland surroundings is physically and mentally rewarding: forest bathing isn’t just a hip, Instagram-worthy trend. Indeed, here are six research-backed benefits of forest bathing that should convince you to give it a go.
A 2007 study aimed at exploring the effects of forest bathing on the immune system showed improved Natural Killer (NK) cell activity in the human body. Twelve healthy males aged between 35 and 55 from Tokyo experienced a three-day/two-night forest trip which involved walking through the forest spaces. Their post-trip blood analysis showed enhanced anti-cancer protein levels. And almost all of the subjects (11 out of 12) showed higher NK activity after the forest bathing trip (about a 50 per cent increase) compared with before.
Forest bathing can reduce hypertension and promote heart health, as pointed out by a study conducted by Kobayashi et al on 19 middle-aged males with normal-high blood pressure levels. The subjects walked through two forest fields and two urban areas on separate days. Post-walk analysis showed a clear dip in the pulse rates during forest bathing, as compared to their pulse rates post urban-walking.
“There's substantial scientific evidence to suggest that forest bathing is physically and mentally rewarding – it isn’t just a hip, Instagram-worthy trend.”
The same study also deduced that forest walks can enhance one’s energy levels, whereas urban walking may reduce one’s energy levels owing to traffic, busy streets and pollution. The phytoncide levels – a class of natural substances emitted by evergreen trees – are much higher in forests, which has also been linked to improved sleep patterns, as a study by T Kawada et al revealed.
Forest bathing can boost one’s mood and reduce stress levels, as shown by a study conducted on 128 middle-aged and elderly subjects in Taiwan. In it, the mood profiles of the participants were compared before and after a forest bathing excursion. The results indicated a significant dip in the negative mood profiles like tension-anxiety, depression-dejection and anger-hostility, aside from improvement in positive mood traits like vigor-activity and a heightened sense of well-being.
Make physical contact with tree barks shutterstock/Tanja Esser
Terpenes are organic compounds produced by plants, which can help fight inflammation and prevent depression and anxiety. While there are thousands of varieties of terpenes present in nature, the ones like D-limonene interact with brain cells to regulate their activity. Studies suggest that spending time in nature serves to boost one’s health as we can inhale significant quantities of terpenes present in dense greenery.
Spending quality time in forest areas can prove to be relaxing for those with sore muscles and joint pains, according to a study conducted on a group of swimmers in Japan. The swimmers showed a tendency to be more relaxed post their Shinrin-yoku excursion, with fewer instances of muscle aches as compared to a non-athlete control group.
Unlike your daily commute to work, forest bathing needs to be a peaceful activity where you’re able to appreciate the natural surroundings, be it the komorebi – the play of sunlight through tree branches – or the intricate detailing on a tree bark. Here’s how you could make the best of your eco-therapy excursion.
If the stress of a hectic life is taking a toll on your physical and emotional well-being, it may be time for you to step back for a short while and take time to unwind with forest bathing. Disengaging from the daily chaos of your life from time to time, and immersing yourself in nature can kickstart your creativity and enhance your mental performance.
For many individuals, this ability to disconnect from work and responsibilities – even for a few hours – may not come naturally. If this is the case, you could even explore guided forest bathing options, guide-led excursions that promise a more structured experience. Whatever your method, the benefits of forest bathing are proven by science, so make sure you take time to get back to nature and soak in all the sights, smells and sounds on offer. ●
Main image: shutterstock/Tanja Esser
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Fitness and healthy food blogger, food photographer and stylist, travel-addict. Sonia loves to write and has resolved to dedicate her life to revealing how easy and important it is to be happier, stronger and fitter each day. Follow her pursuits at FitFoodieDiary or on Instagram.
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