What is forest bathing? Being in nature has become increasingly important for more and more people since the pandemic. Although stay-at-home orders are a thing of the past, the demand for nature-powered activities lives on. But is forest bathing as fun as it sounds and is it actually bathing?
In the 1980s, the Japanese government introduced something called Shinrin Yoku – shinrin meaning “forest” and yoku meaning “bath” – to combat burnout among stressed city dwellers while making good use of Japan’s vast forested areas.
Forest bathing or embracing nature is believed to significantly improve people’s stress levels and overall health. You might be thinking about what equipment you need to make a pair of the best shoes for hiking? Swimming shorts?
Some might imagine “forest bathing” as snuggling up in a bed of damp leaves or swimming in a mossy lake, and will be able to think of much more enticing ways to unwind from the chaos of modern life. But we have with Dr. Spoken to Carly Wood, a Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex who works with The Columbia Hike Society (opens in new tab)and found out that forest bathing is actually a lot easier and less complicated than it sounds.
dr Carly Wood is Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex. Her research interests focus on the role of physical activity in promoting health and well-being. She recently worked with Columbia Sportswear (opens in new tab) in their latest ecotherapy campaign to delve deeper into the people who are getting outside and turning to forest bathing (a form of ecotherapy) to stay both mentally and physically fit.
What is forest bathing about?
“Forest bathing, also known as ‘shinrin-yoku,’ involves immersing a person in a forest environment,” Wood explained, according to a study published in 2022 International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (opens in new tab)Forest bathing has been shown to reduce stress, depression, anger and anxiety.
However, you’re not precluded from reaping the benefits if you don’t live near a forest. Research published in SSM Population Health (opens in new tab) The journal found that more immersive nature-based activities can also lead to positive mental and physical health outcomes.
While forest bathing is largely viewed as a health promotion tool, Wood emphasized that some broader nature-based activities can also be used to improve specific health outcomes. This process is called “ecotherapy”.
“There are different definitions of ecotherapy, but it is often referred to as a supported therapeutic intervention in a natural setting, typically performed in a group and focused on activity as opposed to health outcome,” notes Wood, “Examples of Ecotherapeutic Activities may involve forest walks, farming, conservation activities or gardening and take place in a range of natural settings, including urban green spaces.”
Is forest bathing a form of exercise?
If you’re constantly working towards a new fitness goal or athletic achievement, exercise may be less of an outlet and more of a job that’s there on top of your normal nine-five job. If you think this applies to you, forest bathing might be able to help you slow down a bit.
“Forest bathing could be considered as a form of exercise when it comes to physical activity in the forest environment, for example walking through the forest.
“However, the intensity of the activity performed is likely to vary between experiences, and physical activity is probably not the purpose of the forest bathing experience. This also applies to ecotherapy activities, which typically involve some form of physical activity in a natural setting,” Wood explained.
What are the main benefits?
There are tons of positive effects you can experience from forest bathing. If you choose to do it as part of a group, it can provide a real sense of community and even help heal feelings of loneliness. It can inspire a stronger connection between nature and yourself, helping you appreciate your surroundings and there is real scientific evidence of the proven physical and health benefits, so we’ve listed a few below.
1) It can improve immune function
Everyone wants to build stronger immunity so our bodies can better fight off viruses and diseases that try to attack our immune system. Lots of people take vitamins like that The Best Vitamin D Supplementsif they don’t get enough vitamin D from the sun (this vitamin is great for our immune system).
But that’s why you can also dose nature after your morning vitamins, rain or shine. According to a review in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine (opens in new tab) Journal, something dubbed a natural killer activity, increased among a group of Japanese adults who experienced a three-day forest bathing excursion.
Natural killer cells are so named because they help kill infections in the body. If you’re wondering what can be so special about spending time in the forest and its ability to magically build stronger immunity, phytoncide is the chemical released by trees believed to be beneficial to the immune system.
2) It can help lower stress levels
Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone and plays a key role in how your body responds to stress. Things like diet, sleep, exercise, and caffeine are all examples of things that can increase your cortisol levels. While trying to stay on top of these areas to lower your stress levels, consider forest bathing as an enjoyable activity and solution as well.
A separate review published in the International Journal of Biometeorology (opens in new tab) found that forest bathing may have short-term stress reduction benefits. The study compared the cortisol levels of city dwellers and those who walked and spent time in forested areas.
3) It can improve your mental health
Everyone can feel down and unhappy at times, and sometimes these feelings can be particularly difficult to overcome. While you should always seek professional help, enjoying the great outdoors is something that is free, accessible to all, and has proven benefits.
A 2019 to learn (opens in new tab) Research on forest bathing and its potential physiological and psychological effects found that full-time forest bathing “demonstrated significant positive mental health effects, particularly in those with depressive tendencies.”
Do you have to love nature to enjoy forest bathing?
Yes, you don’t have to be an outdoor enthusiast to benefit from forest bathing. “proof suggests that the health benefits derived from exposure to the natural environment are universal and as little as five minutes of contact with nature can yield health benefits,” Wood shared.
How to start…
“Forest bathing requires immersion in a forest environment, which may not be possible for everyone. However, there is evidence of the health benefits of exposure to a range of natural environments, including urban nature,” Wood said.
City dwellers should therefore not rule out ecotherapy in order to escape from the hustle and bustle and focus more on their mental well-being. Finding a small piece of nature around you, like a community garden, park, or pond, or perhaps traveling out of town to a nearby beach can help you delve into ecotherapy. Wood also suggests that individuals try to join or volunteer with ecotherapy groups in their local community if it exists in their area.
Are you looking for other ways to increase your well-being? Check out ours Meditation tips for beginners.