Did you like our previous blog on Nature’s Effect on Health? Just spending more time in nature can change small elements of your health, and it is important to recognize that these small changes over time add up significantly and can change the trajectory of your health in the future. Because of the great opportunities to submerge ourselves into Iowa’s wonderful nature scene, we want to take the effect of nature on our health one step further and talk about forest bathing.
So what is forest bathing?
The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-yoku, which translates to “forest bathing”. (1) Forest bathing doesn’t involve getting into water with some soaps and shampoos. This is more about slowing down and immersing your mind into the atmosphere of the forest. It involves spending time focusing solely on what you see, smell, and hear. Forget about your job, your problems and worries, your to-do’s and deadlines, and start to observe the details of a natural scene. (2,3)
This is similar to practicing mindfulness, where mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment, without intention, without judging. Forest bathing could be defined as practicing mindfulness while within nature, while paying closer attention to your senses rather than evaluating and judging. You can make this experience as brief as even 5 min a day, but regular practice is recommended for long term health benefits. (3)
The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy reminds individuals that we are a part of nature and not separate from it. They encourage individuals to know that practicing forest therapy is not about what you “should” experience, but to recognize that it is an open experience. (4)
Forest Bathing and Your Health
People have used this as preventative and therapeutic tactic for different aspects of their health. (5) A systematic review discusses how positive effects of forest bathing can be seen in reducing blood pressure in both younger and older individuals. (5)
But why is lowering blood pressure important?5
The National Health Promotion Movement estimates that lowering blood pressure by 4mmHg will lead to a reduction in mortality rate of
- Cerebrovascular disease
- In males by 8.9%
- In females by 5.8%
- Ischemic heart disease
- In males by 5.4%
- In females by 7.2%
Forest bathing can increase the number of anti-cancer proteins in the body, as well as reduce the production of stress hormones, which could have a preventative effect on cancer generation and development.6 It has also shown to be effective in assisting with regulating blood sugars. (5) With the rampant increase of incidences of diabetes in our country today in children and adults, (7) this is great news.
It has further been discovered that breathing in compounds in the forest air that are released by trees can reduce the concentration of these stress hormones and improve immunity activities. (2)
Why is reducing stress important?
It is becoming well known that prolonged exposure to high levels of stress hormones has an effect on the body and the mind, which can lead to behaviors that can be unwanted, including decreased desire to be physically active, experiencing mood swings and angry outbursts, overeating or undereating, misuse of alcohol or other drugs, and withdrawing socially.8 There are many ways to manage stress, but forest bathing could also play a role in reducing your stress and promoting a better lifestyle. (2)
The Des Moines area offers so many places to start trying out forest bathing. This doesn’t have to only be for the adventurous tree huggers, but for anyone who wants to make positive changes to their health. Look into your local areas and start noticing the small details there are in nature, like a small caterpillar, mushroom, creek, or maybe some moss. Be curious and have fun with it. Every experience will be different, what an awesome thing to embrace!
Lastly, you might even find some of these effects in the seasonal activity of picking apples. Check out a local orchard near you and go reduce your stress and enjoy some delicious local apples.
- Park, Bum Jin, et al. “The Physiological Effects of Shinrin-Yoku (Taking in the Forest Atmosphere or Forest Bathing): Evidence from Field Experiments in 24 Forests across Japan.” Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, vol. 15, no. 1, 2009, pp. 18–26., doi:10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9.
- Aubrey, Allison. “Forest Bathing: A Retreat To Nature Can Boost Immunity And Mood.” NPR, NPR, 17 July 2017, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/07/17/536676954/forest-bathing-a-retreat-to-nature-can-boost-immunity-and-mood.
- Team, B. (2020, May 06). Why Forest Therapy Can Be Good for Your Body and Mind. Retrieved August 04, 2020, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-forest-therapy-can-be-good-for-your-body-and-mind/
- Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, www.natureandforesttherapy.org/.
- Ideno, Y., Hayashi, K., Abe, Y., Ueda, K., Iso, H., Noda, M., . . . Suzuki, S. (2017). Blood pressure-lowering effect of Shinrin-yoku (Forest bathing): A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 17(1). doi:10.1186/s12906-017-1912-z
- Li, Q. (2009). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 15(1), 9-17. doi:10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3
- “How Stress Affects Your Body and Behavior.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 4 Apr. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987.
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