According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American now spends 93% of their life indoors. What does this mean for a species who, until very recently in our evolutionary history, were constantly surrounded by the wilderness? Well, over the past few decades, researchers in Japan have been researching and studying the rejuvenating and restorative benefits of simply spending time in the forest. It turns out that reconnecting with the natural world can have a significant positive impact on both your health and wellbeing. Here is what you need to know about forest bathing, the popular Japanese health practice, and how you can try it for yourself.
What is forest bathing (and no, it has nothing to do with taking a bath in the forest)?
Originating in Japan in the 1980’s, forest bathing, also known as shinrin-yoku, is the Japanese practice of taking a relaxed and meditative walk through a forest setting. Recognized as an effective stress management and relaxation practice in Japan, forest bathing has only recently gained notoriety in North America.
What are the health benefits associated with forest bathing?
Japanese researchers have discovered a myriad of health benefits from the simple, unassuming act of walking amongst nature. A few of the positive effects of taking a leisurely stroll under the forest canopy include reduced blood pressure and heart rate, improved immunity, reduced cortisol, and a reduction in stress and anxiety.
How does a walk through the forest improve your health?
An organic compound called phytoncide, emitted by trees, is believed to be partly responsible for the positive health benefits associated with forest bathing. Phytoncide has been found to have a beneficial effect on human immune function by increasing the count of natural killer cells in the body. Natural killer cells are the superstars of the immune system, helping to fight cancer, ward off illness and prevent infections.
A study conducted in 2010 followed participants on a 3-day forest bathing excursion. They found that participants natural killer cell activity had risen by 50% over the three days spent in the wilderness.
How to go forest bathing
The beauty of forest bathing lies in its easy accessibility and availability. Unlike hiking or nature excursions, forest bathing is not a strenuous or educational activity, but rather therapeutic and meditative. Simply take a leisurely walk through the woods on a gentle path, and immerse yourself in the sight, sounds, and aroma of the forest. Try to release the stress of everyday life and revel in the beauty of the wilderness and your surroundings.
In Japan, you can find certified forest bathing trails that are proven by a blood sampling study to increase natural killer cell count. Guided forest therapy walks are now offered at a few locales throughout the United States and Canada.
According to Amos Clifford, a forest bathing expert, the ideal trail is two-thirds covered with a forest canopy, and is accentuated by creeks, plant diversity and meadow areas. At Whispering Springs Wilderness Retreat, our Creekside Trail offers guests the perfect forest bathing experience, winding through our old growth forest, and alongside a meandering creek.