Science Finds That "Forest Bathing" Can Really Make Us Mentally Healthier
What is Forest Bathing?
Forests have always held a special place in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. In 1982, the Forest Agency of Japanese government initiated shinrin-yoku, a national public health program. Its objective is to encourage Japanese residents to get involved with nature and to expose their bodies and minds to the overhead tree canopy. This eco-therapy is relatively simple as the goal is to accomplish nothing. When forest bathing, there is no need to hike or run. The focus is on merely roaming about the forest, taking it all in, and breathing.
The notion that time spent in the forest results in improved physical and mental health is not new, but rather rooted in many ancient customs and traditions. Today, however, research has backed up these claims. Some of the proven benefits of forest bathing include reduced production of the stress hormone cortisol, boosted levels of happiness, and an increased ability to focus and concentrate.
The Effects Of Forest Bathing On Cortisol Levels
One Japanese study, conducted under Institutional Ethical Committee of the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute regulations, set out to measure the effects of forest bathing on cortisol levels. Researchers gathered 280 subjects and identified 24 forests for testing. Each experiment involved groups of 12 individuals walking through and viewing either forests or urban areas.
Cortisol measurements were taken at the research facility in the mornings before breakfast, before and after walking, and before and after viewing. The test took place over 2 days. On the first day, the group was split between urban and forest settings and on the second day, they switched locations.
Results indicated that forest exposure led to lower concentrations of cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as reduced blood pressure and heart rate.
Other Positive Psychological Effects Were Proven
Other research has indicated that forest bathing has positive psychological effects. In this study, researchers utilized the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Scale and the Multiple Mood Scale, which measures depression, friendliness, boredom, hostility, liveliness, and well-being.
498 volunteers participated over a span of 2 days. On the first day, they answered the surveys twice after forest exposure. The second day was a control in which participants responded to the surveys in a controlled environment.
Results concluded that, after forest bathing, hostility and depression decreased while liveliness increased. Interestingly, the findings indicated that the effect was greater on higher levels of stress. This research suggests that forest bathing can be beneficial as a stress reduction tool which may, in turn, reduce the risk of psychosocial stress-related diseases.
It Can Also Boost Your Immune System
Yet another benefit of forest bathing is that it boosts immune system functioning. Several studies have shown an increase in Natural Killer cells (NK cells) after exposure to forests and phytoncide, an essential oil derived from wood.
NK cells produce a rapid immune reaction against viral-infected cells and work to prevent tumor formation. These cells are able to identify, attack, and kill infected cells that lack major histocompatibility complex (MHC). Without MHC, detection of infections is missed by other cells, like T lymphocytes. Researchers, who had previously shown that NK cell production remains elevated in both men and women for longer than 7 days after a weekend forest trip, conducted another study in 2010.
This time, the researchers sought to measure the effects of a 1-day trip to the forest in male immune systems. Twelve volunteers participated in the study, walking for 2 hours in a forest in the morning and afternoon. Researchers took blood and urine samples prior to the trip and for 8 days following forest exposure. The findings indicated that NK cell and anti-cancer protein activity increased after the forest bathing experience. Tests of the forest air also identified a presence of phytoncides.
Get out of the city!
Armed with this information, it’s safe to say that you deserve a trip either out of the city or to a nearby forest park this weekend. Find a walk under the trees that is easy and preferably under 3 miles. Stroll slowly, take in your surroundings, and find somewhere to sit and think for a while. Practice deep breathing and remember, the goal is simply to spend time in the forest. You’ll come away feeling refreshed, relaxed, and more energetic!
Featured photo credit: Ersi via Pixabay via pixabay.com
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