Why a Walk in the Woods is Vital for Your Health: The Science Behind Forest Bathing

Forest bathing is a concept originally developed in Japan in the 1980s. It’s called shinrin-yoku in Japanese, which means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.”

It’s as simple as it sounds. Forest bathing involves relaxing in a forest or other natural area, often taking a slow walk while observing the environment around you. It has become such a respected practice in Japan and Korea that forest therapy is now covered under their medical insurance systems.

The healing power of nature has been known for millennia, but modern science is just discovering the importance of this ancient knowledge.

The Health Benefits of Forest Bathing

Ramona Creek Mount Hood Wilderness Oregon USA

1. Lowers Stress

A Japanese study looked at the physiological effects of forest bathing. They found it promotes lower levels of stress hormones, lower pulse rate and blood pressure, as well as improved nervous system function.

In addition, these benefits were found after participants went forest bathing only once. They walked in a forest for about 15 minutes, then simply viewed it for another 15 minutes.

2. Improves Memory

One Stanford University study had participants do a memory test before and after either a nature walk or a walk in an urban area. Those who walked in nature improved their performance on the second memory test. Whereas, the urban walkers had no improvement.

3. Increases Vitality

Vitality means having physical and mental energy. When you feel vital, you experience a sense of enthusiasm, aliveness and energy.

Through a series of studies, a research group looked at the effect of nature on vitality. They found that walking outdoors increases your vitality, and it was not from the exercise or social interactions. It appeared to be the presence of nature that strengthened people’s sense of aliveness. Interestingly, viewing pictures of nature also had a positive effect.

Researchers concluded it’s important to spend at least 20 minutes each day interacting with nature to feel more energized.

4. Enhances Mental Wellness

A 2015 study found that forest bathing reduces repetitive, negative thoughts, which are a known risk factor for mental illness such as depression. Participants also had reduced activity in an area of the brain linked to mental illness.

Researchers pointed out that currently 50 percent of people live in urban areas. This is estimated to rise to 70 percent by 2050. Urbanization is also linked to higher levels of mental illness. They felt that access to natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.

5. Boosts Immune Function

Forest bathing is shown to increase the activity of natural killer cells and anti-cancer proteins. Both of these compounds are important parts of your immune system. They actively target and destroy dangerous cells in your body, such as virus-infected cells or tumor cells.

Tips on Getting the Most Out of Forest Bathing

Forest bathing is about experiencing a natural space, not getting somewhere or achieving a goal. Low-impact ways of observing your surroundings work best, such as walking or simply sitting and touching the ground or plants around you.

More vigorous activities, like running or cycling, can also be beneficial when done in nature. Although, it is difficult to fully immerse yourself in a natural setting when you’re moving through it quickly.

Exposure to any form of nature is shown to have health benefits. If you can’t easily get to a forested area, going to a local park, your back yard, a river, or even a secluded beach are all great options.

Try one of these exercises next time you’re out in nature:

  • Whether you’re walking, sitting or standing, pay attention to the bottom of your feet. If your mind starts to drift towards a project you need to finish or other stressful thoughts, bring it back to the bottom of your feet.
  • Take in your surroundings with all your senses. Listen for birds and insects, smell the soil, touch the bark of a tree.
  • Pick up a rock and see what’s underneath it.
  • Bring a field guide book with you to learn more about the plants and animals you see.
  • Choose a short nature trail or a garden path you know well. Challenge yourself to walk through it as slowly as possible.
  • At the beginning of your forest bathing session, take a moment to notice how you feel. Then, check in with yourself again at the end of the session. Is there a difference?

The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy offers a certification program on becoming a forest guide. Their video is a great overview of forest bathing fundamentals.

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105 comments

Cindy M. D
Cindy M. Dutkaabout a month ago

I love to walk, especially in the woods or on a beach next to the ocean. One of the greatest experiences you can have. Soft sounds, peace and tranquility - very healing - helped me a lot after my husband passed away last year.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 months ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S1 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Carl R
Carl R1 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Jerome S
Jerome S1 months ago

thanks

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Jim V
Jim Ven1 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Maureen G
Maureen G1 months ago

My home is surrounded by well established trees and I can just see my neighbours in the distance....very peaceful and clean crisp air in the early morning. After a visit to the city I really appreciate my home.

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Carl R
Carl R1 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Carl R
Carl R2 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Twila H
Twila H2 months ago

I love to walk in the woods with my camera and just enjoy the calm and quiet! Thanks for sharing the inspiring article!

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