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Getting back to nature: how “Forest Bathing” can make us feel better

Listen to “Getting back to nature: how “Forest Bathing” can make us feel better”.

The Japanese have known for years that spending mindful time in the woods is beneficial for the body and soul. Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” was developed in the 1980s in Japan. Although people have been taking walks in the country’s forests for centuries, new studies show that such activity could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, and improve concentration and memory. A chemical released by trees and plants, called phytoncides, was found to boost the immune system. As more research highlighted the benefits of shinrin-yoku, the Japanese government incorporated it into the country’s health programme. Now western doctors agree. And soon it could be prescribed by British doctors.

Doctors in Scotland are Prescribing Nature to Their Patients

The benefits are derived from the total effect of the forest environment—taking in the quiet atmosphere, beautiful scenery, refreshing scent, and clean air – through all five senses. Gary Evans, who set up the Forest Bathing Institute in the UK last year, said: “People initially think they’ve been doing this all their lives: going for a walk in the woods. But it might be a brisk walk, or you might be worrying about where the dog has got to. A better way to frame forest bathing is mindful time spent under the canopy of trees for health and wellbeing purposes.”

A typical session might last three hours, and begin with an explanation of the history and science of shinrin-yoku. “Then it’s about sensory exercises,” said Evans. “We try to hold people’s attention in the present moment, to give their bodies and minds a chance to slow down. We move very slowly, touching the trees, looking at colours and patterns, and breathing deeply. We end up lying down under trees and looking up through the branches.”

Forest bathing eases stress by reducing stress hormones—cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Research confirms that it can also: 

  • reduce blood pressure and heart rate 
  • increase the activity of natural killer cells—immune cells that play an important role in defense against bacteria, viruses, and tumors
  • increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (which helps the body rest and recover) and reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response), producing psychologically calming effects
  • increase the level of the hormone adiponectin (lower blood adiponectin levels are associated with several metabolic disorders, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome)
  • reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion and help to prevent depression
  • improve sleep
  • increase energy, creativity, concentration, and memory

If you live in a city, you may not be able to get to a forest easily, but taking off your shoes in the park to feeling the grass will help you de-stress. 

How Spending Just 20 Minutes in Nature Can Make You Healthier

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