A walk in the park does more for your health than you might think. Shinrin yoku, or “forest bathing”, has received a lot of attention recently, and for good reason. A cornerstone of Japanese health, forest bathing comprises of spending time in a natural, wooded area. The Japanese have known the health benefits of forest bathing for decades but the medical community is just starting to catching up.
There have been many studies published on forest bathing, also called “forest therapy”, in the past few years. These studies utilize biometric markers to determine the effects of forest therapy on our bodies. Participants have these markers measured before and after walking through forested areas. Results are then compared to participants taking the same walk but through an urban area. Even with the same amount of physical activity accounted for, many benefits are gained from spending time in the forest.
Forest bathing for stress and mood
Our bodies produce the stress hormone cortisol in response to stressful situations. The reality is that many of us have chronically elevated cortisol levels because of work stressors, hectic family lives and having to balance it all.
The adrenal glands synthesize and secrete cortisol. When cortisol levels are consistently high the adrenal glands become overworked and burn out, causing adrenal fatigue. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include chronic low energy levels and weakened immunity.
Studies of forest therapy have measured cortisol levels before and after a forest walk. Remarkably, forest bathing considerably lowers cortisol levels, favourably taking the burden off of overworked adrenal glands.
Forest bathing also increases mood, energy, and even enhances productivity and focus. This therapy also plays a role in reducing several debilitating chronic diseases by mediating systemic inflammation.
Forest bathing reduces inflammation
Inflammation is an important function in our bodies for healing wounds and fighting infections. However, when misused, inflammation can cause more harm than good. Systemic inflammation is the result of an overzealous immune system that doesn’t know when to stop.
You will find that many chronic diseases have inflammation at their root. Cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are all the result of systemic inflammation. Specific dietary changes reduce systemic inflammation, but it’s also worth spending some time in nature.
Shinrin yoku studies show that spending time in forested areas causes a significant reduction in inflammatory markers. Reducing inflammation can help as a preventative measure against chronic disease and can mediate the symptoms of established diseases. Not only does forest bathing reduce inflammation, it also helps immune system functioning.
Immunity and forest bathing
There are many natural remedies we know of that boost immune health. There’s vitamin C, echinacea, and zinc, to name a few. When you feel that tickle in your throat, what remedy do you turn to? Why not try a walk in the forest.
When you take a walk in the forest there is a measurable increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells. NK cells are the body’s first line of defence and are able to identify any molecules that are not a part of the body. This allows them to quickly recognize invading bacteria or viruses and deal with them quickly, before the problem gets out of hand. Amazingly, spending time in the forest helps to protect you from illness.
From reducing stress, to lowering inflammation and increasing immunity, it is evident that we have a deeply rooted connection with the forest. Initiatives like The David Suzuki Foundation’s 30×30 challenge invite participants to spend 30 minutes in nature every day for 30 days. Experiencing the health benefits of shinrin yoku first hand ignites a passion for the livelihood and protection of the forest. If you want to feel happier, healthier, and more peaceful, deepen your connection with mother nature and incorporate a forest walk into your daily routine!
Last modified: September 23, 2017