Connect with Nature for a Healthier You
Anxious about all of the money you spent holiday shopping? Stressed about catching up with all the work you’ve missed? Feeling unhealthy from too much celebrating?
Or is depression setting in as winter cuts into your tennis time?
Whatever the reason for your post-holiday mood or stress, a trip to the forest may be the best prescription for a healthier you.
First introduced in Japan in 1982, the concept of immersing oneself completely in a forest environment – called forest bathing (or “shinrin-yoku”), was developed by the Forest Agency of the Japanese Government. They felt that with 64% of Japan covered in dense forest, why not encourage the community to embrace the forest to improve upon their health.
But forest bathing is not just about the cardio benefits or beauty derived during a few hours walk in the forest. It is the act of enjoying the forest, intently, through the senses of sight, sound and smell:
• Listening to a babbling stream as it trickles over rocks
• Deeply inhaling the many, varied forest fragrances
• Touching the bark of a tree, rocks and leaves; feeling the breeze on your face
• Focusing in on all of the many visually striking colors
• Hearing both their songs, and the fluttering of birds taking flight
It has been described as blending the enjoyment of time in nature, along with mindfulness. Deliberately engaging with nature, not just observing it.
Studies throughout Japan have shown that forest bathing decreases stress and cortisol levels, lowers blood pressure; and reduces anxiety, depression and anger. Cortisol levels in one study showed a 16% drop during a forest stroll versus an urban walk of the same length.
And the benefits may not just be specific to stress reduction. Forest bathing may also increase a component in the immune system that fights cancer. So called “Natural Killer” cells kill tumors and virus-infected cells in our body, and have shown to increase in the body after forest bathing. Scientists believe this has to do with the breathing in of air containing phytoncide (wood essential oils) during forest bathing; phytoncide are antimicrobial organic compounds emitted from trees and plants, used to protect them from rotting and insects.
So the next time you have the chance, go out and give forest bathing a try. The trees may be whispering some healthy secrets for you!