The Health Benefits of “Forest Bathing”
Did you know that the Japanese have a word for “forest bathing”? Known as shinrin-yoku, it means losing yourself in the forest while enjoying the air, scents, vegetation, and sounds of birds and animals that live there. But did you also know that there are some incredible health benefits associated with taking part in this activity? Apart from the obvious advantages of getting fresh air and exercise, studies have shown that a walk in the forest or park with lots of trees could be one of the healthiest things you can do. Here are just some of the benefits of forest bathing:
1. It may help to prevent cancer.
One vital part of our immune system is made up of Natural Killer (NK) cells, which can fight against cancer. Scientists have found that a walk in the forest can stimulate the activity of these cells. Researchers from the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo took blood samples from small groups of volunteers before they set out on their forest expedition. After spending two or three days in the forest, their blood was taken again for analysis, and it showed a remarkable increase in NK cell activity, which also lasted for a month afterwards. Imagine the health benefits of doing this on a regular basis!
2. The scents of the forest may reduce stress.
Smells and scents have a powerful effect on our health and emotions. Research shows that smells are closely tied to the emotional center in our brain, which can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. The phytoncides found in pine, fir, cedar, and cypress trees contain alpha-pinene and beta-pinene (essential oils found in many plants and trees), which have been found to decrease levels of the cortisol stress hormone. Researchers at Kyoto University found that participants’ stress levels reduced significantly during their forest days compared to their control days.
3. It may help with depression.
Studies have shown that the closer people live to trees, the better their mental health. One study found that areas with more trees had lower rates of prescriptions for antidepressants. Some researchers argue that just seeing a tree can help people cope with living in an urban setting, which can be depressing.
4. It can make your brain work better.
Walking through a forest or green area with trees has been found to aid memory and learning. Forest kindergartens have become popular in Germany, while in the US and the UK, the idea is slowly gaining popularity. Research indicates that children playing in these forest environments are better at many cognitive skills and have better manual dexterity, as well as the ability to assess risks better than those who are educated in an enclosed space.
5. A forest walk can help lower blood pressure.
National Trails Day, promoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in America, indicates that walking in a natural environment, such as a forest, has enormous health benefits. It also helps to maintain the forests as working parties are invited to participate. Japanese researchers asked a small group of volunteers to go for a two hour walk in a forest park in the Tokyo suburbs. After all the tests were carried out, the group had lower blood pressure when walking in the forest area than when they walked in the city area.
6. It can help overweight people get back in shape.
Walking in forested areas is one of the best things you can do to improve your health, particularly if you are overweight or obese. According to the Global Burden of Disease study, nearly 30% of the world’s population is now obese or overweight. The Forestry Commission in Wales, together with help from family doctors, recommends that people with weight and other health problems take a walk in the forest, which is far healthier than doing a workout in the gym.
7. Forest walks are great for reducing loneliness.
Walking in the green, forested woodlands is one of the best ways there is to overcome general health problems and, above all, reduce loneliness by walking with other people. William Shakespeare was well aware of the benefits of walking for health when he wrote, “a turn or two I’ll walk, to still my beating mind.”
In conclusion, a regular walk in the forest can provide enormous health benefits, such as fighting cancer, reducing stress, helping with depression, stimulating the brain, lowering blood pressure, aiding weight loss, and fighting loneliness. So, what are you waiting for? That urban park or nearby forest is just crying out for a visit from you!