Benefits of Forest Bathing
Updated: Jul 19, 2022
What is Forest Bathing?
The term forest bathing emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means ‘forest’ and ‘yoku’ means bath: Shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere. The purpose was twofold - to offer an eco-antidote to burnout.
Forest bathing is not only for a wilderness-lover. The practice doesn't have to be anything more than walking in any natural environment and connecting with what is around you. It is all about practising mindfulness. Mindfulness is the human ability to be fully present, in the moment, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Benefits of Forest Bathing
A decade after its creation, Japanese researchers began studying the physiological benefit of forest bathing. Just a small amount of time outside can really help unplug from technology and slow down. Spending ten to twenty minutes daily can lead to increased well-being and happiness.
Lowering Cortisol Levels
Results suggest that spending two hours of mindful exploration outdoors can reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and improve concentration and memory. The lowering of cortisol levels is so beneficial to both our bodies and our minds. Reducing stress can be difficult in this modern world. But not doing so leads to so many problems, such as migraines, headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions and asthma (among many others).
Forest bathing allows increased parasympathetic nervous system activity, promoting rest, conserving energy, and slowing down the heart rate while increasing intestinal and gland activity. Lower cortisol concentrations are also a signal that the body’s stress-response system is being triggered less. When this system is triggered, cortisol and other stress hormones are released into the body. Overexposure to these chemicals in response to chronic stress can increase the risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.
The average concentration of cortisol, a stress hormone, in people who gazed at forest scenery for 20 minutes was 13.4 per cent lower than that of people in urban settings.
Boosting Immune System
Stress hormones can compromise immune defence; in particular, the activities of frontline defenders, such as antiviral natural killer cells, are suppressed by stress hormones. Since forest bathing can lower stress hormone production and elevate mood states, it’s not surprising that it also influences markers of immune system strength.
In a 2007 study, men taking two-hour walks in the woods over a two-day period exhibited a 50% increase in levels of natural killer cells—the body's disease-fighting agents.
Research has found that trees release chemicals called phytoncides. These chemicals have antimicrobial effects on the human body, boosting the immune system.
Improvements in immune functioning were associated with lower urinary stress hormones while in nature. The natural chemicals secreted by evergreen trees, collectively known as phytoncide, have also been associated with improvements in the activity of our frontline immune defenders. A single two-hour walk outside has been known to increase natural killer cells that can last for days.
The powerful effect of these chemicals from the trees helping to heal is now widely accepted, with it now being used on patients recovering from illness. Many studies have found conclusive evidence that exposure to nature speeds up convalescence. Even a natural view from a hospital window makes a difference, as demonstrated in well-known studies by Dr Roger Ulrich, which paved the way for many innovations, such as hospital gardens and even hospital forests.
Where to forest bathe
The area in which you practise does not have to be a forest. It can be your local park, favourite pond, beach, or any natural setting. The only rule is to turn off your phone and other devices, to keep yourself present.
If nowhere comes to mind, however, there are lots of online resources on the best places to go: Forestry England has some trails, as does the National Trust. There are even retreats across the country which you can attend.
Once you arrive at your setting - take a few deep, cleansing breaths to help centre yourself. Notice what you can see? What can you hear? What can you smell? Once you begin walking, walk with no aim in mind. Simply walk aimlessly, go to a leisurely place, relax and explore. A good practice is to bathe for at least 20 minutes daily. But this should not feel like a chore - so if you do not have time for that, do not worry: detach and enjoy the time you do have.
This is the end of our blog on forest bathing. Have you heard of it before? Have you already been doing so without knowing its name? Will you be going? Let us know @zerosmartuk!