• Julie Rowin MD

Forest Bathing



It’s Spring! And, I am a big proponent of the benefits of getting outside. Did you know that the health promoting effects of nature are backed by plentiful scientific evidence?


Research on Forest-bathing, or Shinrin-yoku as it is known in Japan, has shown positive effects on immune health, mental health, stress reduction, and cardiovascular health.


What is Forest bathing?

Forest bathing is immersing yourself in nature in a mindful way. This could be a slow walk through a forest path taking in all the sounds and smells and sights or it could be sitting on a park bench and observing your breath.



Why Forest Bathe?

When you spend time in the forest, you are actually bathing in the substances released from the plants and trees known as the phytoncides. Phytoncides are what create the ‘aroma’ of the forest. Trees like conifers emit these phytoncide oils and compounds to protect themselves from pathogens. These molecules are beneficial for our immunity too.


Breathing the forest air boosts the number and function of natural killer cells in our blood.(1,2) Natural killer cells fight infections, cancers and tumors, so spending time with trees is a special form of bathing.

Various studies have shown the benefit of forest bathing on:

Memory

Immune function

Anxiety, fatigue and depression

Cortisol levels

Blood pressure(3)

Heart Disease and metabolic syndrome

Increasing the activity of your parasympathetic nervous system and reducing the activity of your sympathetic nervous system, forest-bathing has anti-anxiety effects and reduces blood cortisol levels which has far reaching benefits to your overall health.(4,5)


How to Forest Bathe

Take a slow walk on a forest or park path or trail and tap into all five senses:


Listen carefully to hear the birds singing and the breeze rustling. Is there a body of water to hear? Can you hear your footsteps?


Look at the various green colors. Are there waves in the water or is the water calm? Make sure to take notice of the shapes, colors and size of your surroundings. Notice the distance between yourself and the object(s) you are observing.

Smell the aroma of the trees, soil, plants and water. Breathe in deeply. Can you taste the air?


Feel the roughness of the bark on a tree, the sandy soil, the leaves. Are they damp? Are they dry? What textures do you feel?


The positive effects of forest bathing remind us of our intimate connection to nature. Our high paced, pressured and indoor lifestyle with high reliability on technology has done little to improve our health. Take 20 minutes a day to breathe in nature and notice the profound effects it has on your psychological well-being as well as your physical health.


If you cannot get outdoors, bring a bit of nature inside such as a plant or some flowers or some twigs. Use your senses to explore these objects. Even a small indoor green space can help with stress and anxiety.


References

1. Li Q, Kobayashi M, Wakayama Y, et al. Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2009;22(4):951-959.

2. A, Meggyes M, Makszin L, et al. Forest Bathing Always Makes Sense: Blood Pressure-Lowering and Immune System-Balancing Effects in Late Spring and Winter in Central Europe. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(4).

3. Yau KK, Loke AY. Effects of forest bathing on pre-hypertensive and hypertensive adults: a review of the literature. Environ Health Prev Med. 2020;25(1):23.

4. Farrow MR, Washburn K. A Review of Field Experiments on the Effect of Forest Bathing on Anxiety and Heart Rate Variability. Glob Adv Health Med. 2019;8:2164956119848654.

5. Antonelli M, Barbieri G, Donelli D. Effects of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) on levels of cortisol as a stress biomarker: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Biometeorol. 2019;63(8):1117-1134.