a woman walking through a bamboo forest in japan

Summer’s here and the forest is calling–maybe it seems like even your body is telling you it’s time to reconnect with the wilderness. According to recent scientific evidence, it just might be.

Since people have populated the earth, they’ve known and understood the healing properties of nature. The forest has long been a source of medicinal plants, and spiritual healing. Recently, even scientific studies have shown the efficacy of ecotherapy.

Recently, scientific evidence has emerged that supports this long-held belief. There is a Japanese practice known as “forest bathing” that’s been shown to lower both an individual’s blood pressure and heart rate. It also promotes greater happiness and a sense of well-being.

What is Forest Bathing?

Despite how it sounds, “forest bathing” doesn’t require any nudity or rubbing up against trees; rather, it’s the simple practice of being surrounded by trees and soaking in their presence.

In the early 1980s, the Japanese government instituted a unique national health program focused on using trees and topiary as a form of therapy. To this end, they organized many cultural events and festivals, including massive group picnics during the cherry blossom season.

This idea of “forest bathing” quickly took hold, partially owing to the Japanese culture’s pre-existing affinity for the forest.

The therapy seems to be working, just between 2004 and 2012, officials in Japan spent over $4 million to test the effectiveness. Consequently, researchers throughout the world were curious just what their research showed.

The Science Behind Forest Bathing

We understand any skepticism a reader might have upon hearing these grandiose claims of the benefits of simply being around an abundance of plants and trees.

The research, however, has brought about many compelling insights that has the worldwide scientific community taking notice.

Unless you’ve lived in a city for your entire life, you can probably close your eyes and imagine the fresh smell and feeling of a walk through the forest.

This air in the forest doesn’t just seem fresher–it contains compounds, known as phytoncides, that can actually improve the function of your immune system.

In the attempt to live a healthier life, many people actually become more stressed out. This can yield the opposite effect; heightened stress and cortisol levels can wreak havoc on your body. Forest bathing, on the other hand, is a passive therapy requiring no effort.

Results from the Japanese government’s study of “forest bathing”, as little as a weekend spent around trees increases an individual’s cell activity. These benefits were shown to last for as long as a month after the “bathing session”.

The essential oils contained in the myriad of forest plants and fungi can boost human immune system function, in addition to providing a plethora of other cognitive benefits.

How Can City Dwellers Forest Bathe?

Not everybody has access to a large, forested area. Fortunately, even city slickers can enjoy the benefits provided by forest bathing.

A quick visit to a tree-filled city park can provide similar effects. Consider taking a lunch break at a nearby park or green area, if possible. If you have dogs or other walkable pets, you should also seek out tree and plant-filled areas to walk them.

City life is pretty stressful; even short exposures to plants can lessen the negative effects that can comes as a result of life in an urban environment. Some have even posited forest bathing as a potential therapy for attention disorders in children and young adults.

Another option for those who live in cities is to find (or even found) a forest bathing club. They’re popping up in many cities around America–including San Francisco, whose club is reportedly over 200 people strong. California actually boasts a number of similar clubs and groups, such as the Shinrin Yoku, or “Forest Medicine” society.

Forest Bathing: The Antidote to an Overly “Plugged-In” World?

In an age where the West seems determined to develop even more high-tech devices to improve health (be honest, some of you are probably wearing a FitBit while you read this article), “forest bathing” is a low-tech solution that may just be the solution humanity really needs.

For people–specifically, city dwellers–dealing with technology-related anxiety, the forest might be just what the doctor ordered. Forest bathing is an easy and healthy way to create a lasting effect on your pulse, heart rate, and even nerve activity.

Forest bathing can also ease the mind; psychological effects included a decreased level of depression and even a lower amount of hostility and anger.

Forest Bathing: Important Takeaways

Nature has incredible healing powers; our ancestors knew it, and science has repeatedly confirmed it. If you’re interested in experiencing the benefits of forest bathing for yourself, here are a few important points for you to remember:

Even a brief exposure to plants every day provides health and psychological benefits.

It’s worth your time: spending a day or even a full weekend in nature provides benefits that can last up to a month after the forest bathing session.

It’s not just for citizens of Japan or people who live near forests–city dwellers can visit local parks or other tree-filled areas, or find like-minded people to start a forest bathing club of their own.

Either way, the essential message is clear: it’s time to put down your phone for a few minutes, go into nature, and take a few deep breaths of the healing air and plant nutrients. Your body and brain will thank you.

If you have any comments, questions, or forest bathing stories to share, let me know below in the comments below.

Thanks for reading — I’ll see you in the forest.