While its roots may be in Japan, forest bathing is fast gaining attention in all four corners of the globe. But what is it exactly and how can it improve your health?
Forest bathing explained
Technically known as shinrin yoku, forest bathing has been all the rage in Japan since the 1980s, where it even has a place in the Japanese health system. Steadily making waves over in the UK, you can now find organisations and accredited guides offering forest bathing programmes and sessions up and down the country.
Essentially, forest bathing involves spending time mindfully in a forest. It has nothing to do with getting wet, and it doesn’t focus on exercise goals, hiking or number of calories burned. In fact, you don’t necessarily need to move around once you’re in the forest.
To get into the forest bathing zone, you need to leave any distractions such as your phone, camera or dog at home. All you need to do is open your senses to the natural world around you: use your eyes to look at the colours, your nose to smell the plants, your ears to listen to the leaves rustling or the birds singing and your hands to touch the bark of a tree. Take in deep breaths as you taste the fresh air. As you slow down and focus only on nature, your body and mind start to relax. Your body becomes your guide as to where you want to move in the forest, or you can simply sit or lie down and soak up the environment around you.
Scientists and researchers consistently extol the many health virtues of forest bathing, and even the Duchess of Cambridge incorporated elements of shinrin yoku in her recent Chelsea Flower Show garden design. Here’s how spending time mindfully in a forest setting can help you.
Japanese scientists have concluded that spending time in a forest can reduce the stress hormone cortisol by 12.4% compared to being in an urban environment. Researchers across the globe also confirm that forest bathing has the ability to improve mood.
Improve immune function
Researchers in Japan have discovered that trees release chemicals called phytocides. When we breathe these in, they have the ability to bolster the body’s cells that fight disease. Therefore, forest bathing may help to improve your immune function.
It seems that spending time in nature has a positive impact on your creativity. One study found that participants who spent three days in a forest saw their creative problem-solving skills shoot up by 50%.
Blood pressure reduction
A large-scale study conducted in Japan found that participants who spent time in a forest showed signs of lower blood pressure rates compared to those in a non-forest setting.
Heart attack reduction
Adiponectin levels in the body are said to rise when you go forest bathing. These help to reduce inflammation in the blood vessels, which can lower your risk of having a heart attack. Additionally, an increase in adiponectin levels has also been found to lower blood glucose, so forest bathing could prove beneficial for those with diabetes.
Focusing on the sights and sounds of a forest can help to bolster your concentration skills. In particular, one study discovered that children with ADHD showed improved levels of concentration after being immersed in a woodland setting compared to an urban one.
The beauty of forest bathing is that it’s accessible to anyone of any age and fitness levels. You can do it alone or with an organised group. While finding a forest or heavily wooded area is best, you can still benefit from shinrin yoku principles by heading to the local park or even your garden (provided they’re free from distractions). The more often you practice forest bathing the better, where researchers have found that its positive benefits can last from a week up to as long as a month later.