“There’s no WiFi in the forest, but I promise you’ll find a better connection.”
This past weekend, my family and I visited a theme park in the middle of the woods. Although spending quality time together in an enchanted forest was amazing on its own, being in beautiful green surroundings added an extra dimension. Strolling among the trees made me feel invigorated and blissfully at peace at the same time.
We all intuitively know that being in nature boosts our wellbeing, but research backs that feeling. There’s actually so much evidence on the health benefits of nature that doctors in Japan and Scotland are allowed to prescribe nature time as part of their treatment plan.
Why Forest Bathing Is So Good For Your Health
Shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’ is the Japanese practice of immersing yourself in the woods. Studies show that taking in the forest atmosphere through your five senses promotes your health and happiness in many ways. Being outdoors relaxes your body and lowers your pulse rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels – a hormone your body produces under stress.
What’s more, it turns out that the forest air has healing powers. When you spend time in wooded areas, you inhale a cocktail of organic compounds released by the plants and trees. The largest group of these compounds, called terpenes, have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic and neuroprotective effects. This means that breathing in forest air helps your body defend itself against cancer, inflammatory illness like bronchitis and neurodegenerative diseases.
Forest bathing also enhances the number and activity of ‘natural killer cells’ – powerful white blood cells that fight off infections and attack tumor cells. Amazingly, this increased immunity can last up to one month after a trip to the forest.
And the best part is, you don’t even need to go for a rigorous hike to enjoy these health benefits. You simply have to be in the forest and take a deep breath.
How You Can Benefit From Forest Bathing Too
It’s clear that spending time in the woods has profound physical and psychological perks. But unfortunately, the majority of us spend our waking hours mostly indoors. We step outside to walk from our house to our car to the office and back again.
How can you practice forest bathing when you live in a concrete jungle or are housebound due to chronic illness?
- Find ways to squeeze more ‘nature time’ in your days. From adorning your home with plants to grounding, you can still make nature a part of your life if you’re stuck indoors. Have a look at these 11 ways to get your daily nature fix.
- Make time for outdoor recreation on the weekends. Of course hiking in the woods is the ultimate form of forest bathing, but any activity in nature will do. Maybe you can meet up with friends at the park, take up gardening or have a picnic among the trees? Science suggests that just one forest trip a month already boosts your immunity for 30 days. Surely you can fit that into your schedule?
- Pick a walking trail that’s right for your fitness level. If you suffer from health problems, research the wooded area you want to visit beforehand. Are there marked routes of various lengths? Is the path accessible for wheelchairs or walking aids? Is there any elevation? Should you take any precautions to ensure your safety?
- Practice the art of savouring. One of the reasons it’s called forest bathing is the emphasis on immersing yourself by engaging all your senses. Paying attention to what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch has its own health benefits. And luckily, you can reap those from the comfort of your own home. Check out these 21 ways to enhance your wellbeing by savouring everyday moments.
- Add nature therapy to your wellness routine or treatment plan. If you live in urban areas or have limited mobility, spending time outdoors doesn’t come natural. But how many other inexpensive, accessible remedies can you think of that significantly reduce stress, boost your mood and improve your overall health? Give forest bathing a try and plan for it like you would schedule a workout or massage.
- Mix fun and family time with forest bathing. Take a lead from (your) kids and kick up leaves. See how many natural treasures you can find on your scavenger hunt. Walk barefoot through a stream on warm days. Whatever you enjoy!
- Use essential oils. This study suggest that the terpenes found in essential oils have similar health-boosting effects as forest bathing does. There’s still little evidence on the effectiveness of essential oils, but you could research if your health condition could benefit from aromatherapy.
- Deepen your forest bathing experience. Make the most of your therapeutic trips by noting your observations in the illustrated guided journal Among Trees. The writing prompts will help you to take in the natural world around you – and plan your next excursion!
You can read more about the healing powers of the woods in Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness from Dr. Qing Li.
Have you ever purposely tried forest bathing?
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like: