Close your eyes and imagine this: You’re walking through the forest, breathing in fresh air. Branches gently glide along your legs. Birds are singing and smaller animals scamper in the brush. Sunlight filters between leaves as a cool breeze blows. Your thoughts are clear. You feel calm. Rejuvenated. Restored.
This is forest bathing, or as the Japanese call it, shinrin-yoku — the art of simply being in nature to heal one’s ills. Sounds too hippie-dippie to be true? Well, not if you believe the research.
According to a study done by researchers at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, visiting forest parks boosts the immune system and increases anti-cancer proteins. Forest bathing is also credited with a multitude of other physical and mental health benefits.
“Being outdoors can ease your mind and body. Nature, whether it’s experienced in a forest or at the beach, has a calming effect,” says Jessica Bixenmann a Sharp Health Plan wellness coach. “Pick your favorite outdoor spot and spend some time there — whether you are walking or being still, breathing in the fresh air. Even five minutes can make a difference.”
In addition to the boost in immunity, being outdoors can improve your health and well-being in the following five ways:
- Lowers your blood pressure and reduces stress — Spending time walking among or simply looking at trees lowers blood pressure and reduces the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
- Improves mood — Researchers have found that nature simply makes us happy. Anxiety, depression and anger are notably decreased after spending time forest bathing or doing other outdoor activities.
- Improves focus — Studies show that both adults and children who have difficulties focusing or controlling impulses are better able to concentrate after being in nature. The natural world allows our brains to take a break from all that mentally drains us, and even reduces symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Helps us heal quicker — Illness and surgery can be painful and frightening, which can increase stress and slow healing. However, researchers discovered that patients who spent time outdoors during their recovery required fewer painkillers, had fewer complications and experienced shorter hospital stays.
- Supports graceful aging — According to a study in the Journal of Aging and Health, adults over 70 who spent time outdoors experienced fewer sleep difficulties, complained less about aches and pains, and enjoyed improved mobility and ability to perform daily activities.
Bixenmann notes that spending time outside can be especially beneficial during the holidays, when schedules become fuller and stress levels rise.
“I love to walk in neighborhoods and see all the decorations for the holidays — what a great way to enjoy the health benefits of being outdoors and to take your mind to a positive place of peace and gratitude.”