Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Taking a walk in the woods and soaking up the lush scenery, clean air, and supreme quiet of a forest could do more than refresh your mind and recharge your energy. Thanks to a do-it-yourself therapy known as forest bathing or shinrin-yoku (a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere”), spending a few serene hours in the woods may give you a long-lasting health boost.
A form of eco-therapy practiced in Japan for several decades, forest bathing has been found to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and increase anti-cancer proteins in recent studies. Those health effects most likely have much to do with stress-soothing, according to Qing Li, associate professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo. However, certain environmental factors may also play a part in forest bathing’s impacts on health. For instance, says Li, breathing in phytoncides (a class of compounds released by trees) appears to rev up immune activity.
When heading out for a forest bathing session, keep in mind that “the key things are to slow down and engage your senses,” advises Amos Clifford, director and founder of the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides & Programs, based in Santa Rosa, Calif. While joining guide-led group trek can ease you into a slower pace, starting off with a period of stillness can also help you make that shift.
“Slowing down can initially be stressful for many people, but finding your way to a beautiful spot and just sitting for about 20 minutes without any distraction can help you unwind,” Clifford says. For more hints on making the most of forest bathing, visit shinrin-yoku.org.
Aim for a three-hour-long session, including up to a mile of walking. Some research shows that benefits can build up over time, so turning the practice into a weekly habit should deliver greater health gains.
For help in honing your attention, jot down your observations about all the sights, scents, sounds, and textures around you.
To enhance the anti-stress element of your forest-bathing experience, researcher Qing Li suggests adding in relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation. Some forest bathers even incorporate yoga, tai chi, or barefoot walking into their sessions, says forest-therapy practitioner Amos Clifford.