5 Great Health Benefits of Forest Bathing

"The art of forest bathing is the art of connecting with nature through our senses." -Dr. Qing Li

Forest therapy, or forest bathing, has become increasingly popular in the last few years, with Western medicine beginning to catch on to the important health benefits spending time in nature provides.

Shinrin-yoku in Japanese translates simply to "forest bath", and the practice itself is the act of 'simply being in nature'.

In the 1980's, a national health program in Japan introduced forest bathing as a way to reduce stress and improve mental and physical wellbeing in over-worked, city dwelling citizens.

Since then, numerous studies have been done and they all point to the same findings: nature is a great healer.

Let's take a look at 5 of the health benefits that forest therapy has to offer!

1. Forest Bathing Can Help You Sleep Better

Good quality and adequate sleep is hard to come by these days. We're distracted by our screens, we work late and we just tend to stay awake longer than that natural rhythms of our bodies wants us to. Being in the forest (no matter the level of physical activity) has been proven to improve sleep patterns.

A study by Dr. Qing Li was done that showed sleep in people who suffered from sleep disorders like insomnia, increased by 15% after a two hour forest walk. It also noted that the quality of sleep was better and that an afternoon walk improved sleep more than a morning walk!

2. Nature Can Help Elevate Your Mood

Forest bathing has been proven to increase moods and help regulate anxiety and depression. Although walking outside anywhere is generally seen as beneficial, studies indicate that only walking in forest environments has a positive effect on fatigue and vigour. This is thought to be because the forest landscape offers all the healing elements of nature (sights, sounds, smells, etc.) as one, instead of in isolation!

3. Forests Are Immune Boosters

I could (and probably will) write a whole article on the smells of the forest, but one of the biggest immunity boosters are phytoncides, which are natural chemicals that give off that amazing 'pine' smell. Not only do these wood oils smell great, but it's been shown that exposure to phytoncides significantly increases the number of NK (natural killer) cells and activities in our bodies. These cells are essential to our immune systems and people with higher NK activity show lower incidences of disease.

Not only that, but increased NK activity can remain elevated after a forest bathing session for up to 30 days afterwards!

4. Forest Bathing Reduces Stress

Living and working in cities often activates our sympathetic nervous symptom, which is responsible for our 'fight or flight' responses. if we don't give our bodies time to recover from this response, we are constantly releasing cortisol (the stress hormone), which can disrupt our body's natural processes.

Forest therapy has been shown to decrease cortisol levels by allowing our bodies to enter into a state of relaxation. It also lowers blood pressure and increases heart-rate variability (a metric used to indicate our ability to bounce back from stress - the higher, the better).

5. Nature Increases Energy

And finally, forest bathing just naturally boosts your energy. Being outside and away from artificial air and energy draining screens allows our eyes and minds to take a break, which is like a little reset for our bodies. You know that invigorating feeling of taking a deep breath outside and it instantly revives you? Your body replenishing its oxygen is an instant energy boost!

Sabarah Pilon is a Certified Forest Therapy Guide and offers guided forest bathing walks and other services through 32 Roots Connection in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.