While in Japan, we went to Kyoto and visited a bamboo grove at Arashiyama. It was quite lovely walking through the grove and looking up at the tall bamboo trunks that seemed to go for ever. It was peaceful and soothing but little did I appreciate the extent of the health benefits it offered.
It seems the Japanese have a practice called “forest bathing” which is scientifically proven to be good for you. Forest bathing is being in the presence of trees. It is not about a fitness routine set in the forest. It is about being in the presence of trees. Relaxing. Meandering.
This practice became part of the national health program in Japan in 1982.
Research shows that forest bathing has both physiological and psychological effects. These in include lowering heart rate and blood pressure, reducing stress hormone production, improving the immune system and improving feelings of well-being.
One research study into NK cells (cells associated with the immune system and cancer prevention) looked at the activity of these cells after a forest visit. The findings showed a significant increase in NK cell activity in the week after being in the forest, which was sustained for a month.
How it works
When walking through a forest, you inhale phytoncide which comes from various essential oils found in wood and plants. Trees emit these to protect themselves from germs and insects. Evidently our own immune system benefits in the same way.
The difference a thirty-minute forest visit can make
A study compared how much the cortisol levels, blood pressure, pulse rates and heart rates of a group of twenty year-olds varied from a day in the city to a day with a thirty-minute visit to a forest. The conclusions were, that compared to city environments, forest environments promoted:
- lower cortisol
- lower pulse rate
- lower blood pressure
- greater parasympathetic nerve activity (controls body’s rest and digest system)
- lower sympathetic nerve activity (fight or flight response)
Psychological health benefits
Another study, looking at the psychological effects of trees concluded that forest environments are therapeutic landscapes. The effects included:
- reduced hostility and depression scores
- increased liveliness
Making a difference to your own health
Getting “doses of nature” be they from forests, parks, or gardens is very “doable” and beneficial to our health and well-being. Regular visits would seem to be the best way to achieve this. So, if you are a city dweller and interested in these benefits, visit a patch of green in your urban environment and make this part of your weekly routine.
Livini, Ephrat. 2017. “The Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’ is scientifically proven to be good for you“, World Economic Forum Regional Agenda article, 23 March 2017
There are many articles and studies available about phytoncide.