Forest bathing—basically just being in the presence of trees—became part of a national public health program in Japan in 1982. The practice of forest bathing or orshinrin-yoku, is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.
The proper way to forest bathe is to relax rather try to than accomplish anything. Just be with trees. No hiking, no trail running. You can simply sit or just wander around.
In a 2009 study, Qing Li, a professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, measured the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells in the immune system before and after exposure to the woods. These cells are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention. Li’s subjects showed significant increases in NK cell activity in the week after a forest visit, and positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods.
This is due to various essential oils, generally called phytoncide, found in wood, plants, and some fruit and vegetables, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects. Forest air doesn’t just feel fresher and better—inhaling phytoncide seems to actually improve immune system function.
Another Japanese study found that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol (the stress hormone), lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.
A third study found that forest bathers showed significantly reduced hostility and depression scores, coupled with increased liveliness, after exposure to trees.
As evidenced by all of these studies, it appears that the Japanese take their forest bathing quite seriously.
City dwellers can benefit from the effects of trees with just a visit to the park. Brief exposure to greenery in urban environments can relieve stress levels, and experts have recommended doses of nature as part of treatment of attention disorders in children. This evidence suggests we don’t seem to need a lot of exposure to gain from nature.
When I first heard the term “forest bathing” I was imagining stripping down to your birthday suit and rolling around in the dirt and leaves in the middle of a forest. So I thought it was something that appealed to just a small part of our population.
But now that I’ve heard what it really is, I’ll have to try and make forest bathing a regular habit.
I’m not sure I’m ready to start hugging any trees though.
And maybe after I do my forest bathing, I can take a Scottish Shower.
Note: much of the info for this blog came from an article on Quartz: The Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’ is scientifically proven to improve your health