Have you ever gone to a forested area and walked around? How did you feel afterward? Did you feel refreshed, less stressed and more energetic? If so, evidence shows that spending time amongst trees and nature does have a positive impact on our health. The Japanese have a term for this: Shinrin-Yoku (Shinrin = “forest”; yoku = bathing). What they mean by this term is taking time to soak in the beauty and benefits of nature. Recent studies have shown that there are scientific reasons explaining these benefits.
The essential wood oils of plants called “phytoncides” are largely responsible for the health improvements noted. These phytoncides are chemicals produced by trees and plants to protect themselves from harmful insects and germs through their anti-fungal and anti-bacterial qualities. Researchers have also found these benefits to humans:
- Boost immune system
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Lower blood pressure levels
- Reduce stress
- Increase energy levels
- Increase ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Improve sleep
- Accelerate recovery time from surgical procedures and illness
- Improve mood
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the benefits of Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing:
As we walk through a forest, we breathe in the phytoncides that the trees and plants give off. (The phytoncides are what creates that “forest” scent you smell as you walk in a wooded area.) Once these chemicals enter our bodies, they cause our immune system to respond by increasing the number and activity of special white blood cells known as “natural killer” cells (NK). The job of the NK cells in our bodies is to kill off other cells that have been infected with tumors or viruses, protecting us from the tumors and viruses.
Blood Pressure and Stress Levels
Numerous studies show that taking time in a forest reduces blood pressure as well as two stress-related hormones, cortisol and adrenalin. “In addition, in studies using the POMS test, forest bathing trips were found to significantly increase the score for vigor and decrease the scores for anxiety, depression, and anger, suggesting that the subjects were physiologically relaxed during the forest bathing trips .”1
Ability to Focus
Children with ADHD suffer from Attention Fatigue. Studies show that when these children spend time outdoors in natural environments, they experience a reduction in Attention Fatigue. Researchers are now investigating the possibility of using forest bathing to supplement other approaches to managing ADHD.
The amazing aspect to this research is the amount of time that the effects of Shinrin-Yoku lasted. Researchers in Japan sent a group of men on a 3-day, 2-night trip to a forest and compared results to those found when these men spent time traveling as a tourist in the city for the same amount of time. They found that the NK cells (mentioned earlier) as well as granulysin-, granzyme A/B- and perforin-expressing cells, were still “significantly higher” seven days after the trip to the forest but not after the city trips. After 30 days, there was still increased activity and number of many of these cells. Their conclusion was that a monthly trip to a forest may help individuals to maintain a higher level of NK cells, those which help to kill virus or tumor cells which invade our bodies.