With Japan ranking #1 in life expectancy — while the U.S. ranks 34th — I am fascinated by Japanese health innovations. One I love the most is called “forest bathing” (Shinrin-yoku).
What is forest bathing?
Forest bathing is the simple act of taking time to enjoy the forest with all of one’s senses in order to decrease harmful stress.
Leave electronics behind and just let your senses explore nature. You can listen to a babbling stream, inhale the many forest fragrances, note the breeze on your face, touch the bark of a tree and focus on the many striking colors and shapes you’ll see.
Breathe deeply with intention. Japanese researchers suggest a major benefit of forest bathing comes from inhaling the aromas of essential oils.
What are the benefits of forest bathing?
The “Japanese Society of Forest Medicine” has thoroughly documented the multi-faceted health benefits of spending time in the woods. These include raising cancer-fighting NK killer cells, increasing vigor, improving sleep and DHEA levels, as well as reducing cortisol, anxiety, blood pressure, depression and anger. Plus, if this restful activity reduces stress hormones as much as it seems, it will help build bone also.
Planning your forest bathing
Summer is a great time to “forest bathe” and submerge yourself in the beauty of nature renewing itself. Here are some guidelines to get started:
• Make your plan based on your current daily physical activity and do not get tired during the forest bathing. This is a restful, mindful stroll in the forest, not a cardiovascular workout.
• If you take a whole day, try spending 4 hours in the forest and walking about 3 miles.
• If you take half a day, try spending 2 hours in the forest and walking about 1.5 miles.
• Drink if you feel thirsty and sit down to rest or read in a beautiful spot.
• If you want to boost your immunity, a 3 day/2 night bathing trip is recommended. Research shows that the increase in NK cells persists for 30 days after this forest bathing.
If you can’t make it to a forest, the Japanese researchers say a 2 hour walk in a city park with good tree density can significantly boost vigor and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Please let me know your experience with forest bathing!
Quig Li et al., Acute effects of walking in forest environments on cardiovascularv and metabolic parameters. European Journal of Applied Physiology, Nov. 2011, V.111, Issue 11: 2845-2853
Bum Jin Park et al., The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere of forest bathing): evidence for field experiments in 24 forest across Japan, Environmental Health Prev Med.2010 Jan;15(1):18-26.