What can forest bathing do for your mental and physical health? Let’s look at the science to find out.
Going for a 40-minute walk in the forest can boost your mood and make you feel healthier and stronger.
Spending time in the forest can help with stress, which can cause all sorts of health problems like headaches, high blood pressure, heart issues, diabetes, skin problems, asthma, and arthritis.
When you're feeling super stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. But when you're in the forest, your body doesn't release as much cortisol, which is a good thing because too much of it can cause all sorts of health problems like anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration problems. A study found that after going for a walk in the forest, the stress hormone cortisol went down. People who went for walks inside a lab didn't have the same results, implying that the forest setting was responsible for the reduction in stress hormone.
Forest bathing is a fancy way of saying that hanging out in the forest can make you feel super relaxed. This happens because your body's "rest and digest" system gets turned on, which helps you conserve energy and slow down your heart rate while also increasing activity in your gut and glands.
Scientists have done some interesting studies and found that just looking at forest scenery for 20 minutes can lower the amount of cortisol in your saliva by 13.4 percent compared to being in an urban area. And if you go for a chill forest walk, your cortisol levels can drop by 12.4 percent, your heart rate can decrease by 5.8 percent, your blood pressure can go down by 1.4 percent, and your body's "fight or flight" system(which makes you feel stressed) can decrease by seven percent.
When you're feeling stressed, it can disrupt your immune system and make it harder for your body to fight off sickness. But, if you go forest bathing, you can lower the amount of stress hormones in your body and feel happier, which can help your immune system get stronger.
In fact, there was a study done in 2007that found that men who went for two-hour walks in the forest over two days had a 50% increase in natural killer cells, which are super important for fighting off diseases.
Even cooler, some researchers are starting to think that forest bathing might have anti-cancer benefits too! In2008, Dr. Li did a study with 13 female nurses who went on a three-day forest trip and found that it produced anti-cancer proteins that lasted for more thana week after the trip. This is really exciting, and Dr. Li and other scientists are still looking into this potential benefit.
When you're out in nature, it can actually help your immune system get stronger by lowering the amount of stress hormones in your body. This doesn't happen when you're in the city, though -only when you're surrounded by trees and fresh air.
One reason for this might be the natural chemicals that evergreen trees release into the air, called phytoncides. These chemicals have been shown to help our immune system get better at fighting off sickness. Dr. Li, who has done a lot of research on forest bathing, has even measured the amount of phytoncide in the air during his studies and found that the more there is, the better our immune system works.
It's really interesting because doctors have been noticing the benefits of being in the forest for a long time. Back in the 1800s, doctors in Germany and New York set up sanatoriums in pine forests to help people with tuberculosis, and they found that being in the forest air made people feel better. They even thought that maybe the pine trees were releasing something that could help people heal! And now, with the shinrin-yoku studies, we're starting to learn more about what might be going on.
Spending time in nature can actually help us think better and be more creative. For example, in one study, a group of people who went on a wilderness backpacking trip with Outward Bound performed50% better on creative problem-solving tasks afterwards. According to researcher David Strayer, it takes a little while to really start feeling the benefits of being in nature.
But the good news is that you don't have to spend days in the wilderness to see a difference. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs teaches something called Forest Therapy, which can have similar effects in just three hours.
We’ve seen numerous studies where time in forests correlated with improved mood, even when compared to walking in urban areas. The psychological effects of walking in nature promote better health than walking in cities.