Forest bathing is the latest health trend—but what exactly is it, anyways? Translated from the Japanese term shinrin-yoku, forest bathing is also known as forest therapy. It’s kind of like hiking through the forest. It’s kind of like meditating amongst the trees. Yet it’s not exactly either.
Forest bathing is taking time to unwind and connect with nature to improve your health. Simply put: Forest bathing is retreating to nature to immerse in the forest atmosphere.
The practice originated in Japan in the late 1980s.
Most of us think of a sweaty hike when we think of a trip to the woods. Forest bathing is set at a much slower pace and is focused on fully experiencing the nature around us. It isn’t about covering a set distance, raising your heart rate or even about the exercise.
Forest bathing has many benefits, including:
Creating kung fu fighting killer cells
One Japanese study demonstrated that after a three-day camping trip in the forest, participants averaged a whopping 50 percent increase in natural killer cell activity. Forest bathing has been scientifically shown to increase immunity, decrease the risk of cancer and help you to recover from illness faster.
Decreased risk of heart attack
Multiple forest bathing studies have demonstrated its ability to significantly reduce blood pressure, stress levels and pulse rate. A trip through the woods will also increase your body’s adiponectin levels. These have an anti-inflammatory effect on blood vessel cells and have been shown to decrease the risk of heart attack.
Protection against obesity and diabetes
Increased adiponectin is also inversely related to obesity and insulin resistance. The substance is secreted by fat cells and regulates our fat metabolism, glucose levels and weight gain. Forest bathing reduces blood glucose levels, even in diabetics. Diabetic patients did a forest bathe walk every eight months for six years. Even though their time spent forest bathing was very spaced out, their blood glucose levels still showed significant improvement.
More energy and better sleep
Many of us notice the revitalized feeling we get from taking a deep breath in a natural location. It’s not just your imagination — forest bathing has been shown to increase vigor and fight fatigue. At the same time, it triggers hormones and processes in our body that improve sleep.
A small study of 19 men showed that anxiety, depression and confusion levels were improved after a forest bathing trip. They compared the forest walking group to one walking through an urban area. Even though both groups had the health benefits of exercise, the forest bathing group clearly won out. This is just one example of the many studies showing the mood boosting effects of forest bathing.
Forest air is noticeably fresher than city air, or even other nature environments, since the trees are busy converting CO2 into fresh oxygen for our lungs. Not only is the air fresher, but the compounds naturally released by the trees decrease inflammation. The D-limonene found in some forest air reduces lung inflammation. Those with breathing problems like asthma have shown improvement after forest bathing as oxygen is increased and inflammation is lessened.
Clearer, more comfortable skin
Inflammation is the cause of many issues in the body, including certain skin disorders. Those with eczema and psoriasis can see benefits after forest bathing. Terpenes are some of the main anti-inflammatory components expressed by trees into the forest air and are mainly found in conifers like cypress, fir and pine trees.
Soothing relief for sore muscles
Osteoarthritis relief, reduced joint pain and inflammation, and decreased neck and back pain are just some of the proven benefits.
Different terpenes have also proven to be effective against inflammation in the brain, liver and pancreas to keep these vital organs healthy. The terpene borneol protects the brain and nervous system and may help protect against degenerative brain diseases that stem from inflammation, like Alzheimer’s.
As mentioned earlier, forest bathing helps fight against cancer cell growth, and that’s due in part to the terpene D-limonene. This terpene has anti-tumor properties and studies have shown it effective against breast, intestine, pancreas, liver and colon cancers.