“Forest Bathing”: Stress-Reducer, Immune-Booster, and Artistic Inspiration

Research into the Japanese concept of "forest bathing" offers insightful and helpful lessons on stress, health, and creativity.

Research into Japanese “forest bathing” offers a new and interesting take on the conventional wisdom that exposure to nature reduces stress. The term “forest bathing” is the translation of a Japanese term, Shinrin-yoku (森林浴), which refers to spending time in forests to reduce stress. Indeed, an organization of the same name refers to the practice of mindfully walking among trees as “forest therapy.” They offer this simple, healing prescription: “Go to a Forest. Walk slowly. Breathe. Open all your senses.”


The notion of immersion into nature as relaxing is commonplace enough. However, scientific researchers have found robust explanations of how trees help people to de-stress. A key part of the answer involves phytoncides, a kind of compound produced by many plants to protect against rotting and hungry animals. While discouraging to herbivores, phytoncides prove to be very helpful for humans: they not only help to reduce stress but also bolster immune function. Thus, taking a cue from the Japanese practice of “forest bathing” by taking a 40-minute stroll through the forest can have powerful physical and mental health benefits.

The power of exposure to forests is not a recent discovery. For example, a pair of German physicians in the 1800s found that exposure to forest-air helped to cure patients with tuberculosis. Nevertheless, researchers continue to reveal the multitude of healing properties of forests.  A Japanese study from 2010, for instance, found that subjects exposed to forests had several favorable traits over those who were exposed to city-areas: “lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity.”

But the perks of forest bathing do not end there! Forest therapy has also been shown to improve creativity and to bolster focus. One collaborative study by researchers from the University of Kansas and the University of Utah found that subjects who hiked and camped performed 50% better on creative problem-solving tasks than those who did not; meanwhile, another American study found that 20-minute walks through parks (as opposed to downtown and residential areas) produced increases in attention among children with ADHD comparable to Ritalin.

In response to the wide variety of findings on the positive effects of forests, city-dwellers like myself may bemoan the impracticality of taking a jaunt through the woods everyday. Writer Molly Larkin, however, recommends alternative practices that function similarly. These include visiting parks, walking under trees, buying houseplants, and using aromatherapy. Thus, the potent, multi-faceted benefits of forest bathing can be accessible to nearly everyone.

--

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Brain study finds circuits that may help you keep your cool

Research by neuroscientists at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory helps explain how the brain regulates arousal.

Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP/ Getty Images
Mind & Brain

MIT News

The big day has come: You are taking your road test to get your driver's license. As you start your mom's car with a stern-faced evaluator in the passenger seat, you know you'll need to be alert but not so excited that you make mistakes. Even if you are simultaneously sleep-deprived and full of nervous energy, you need your brain to moderate your level of arousal so that you do your best.

Keep reading Show less

34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America

A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
  • The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
  • According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
Keep reading Show less

How pharmaceutical companies game the patent system

When these companies compete, in the current system, the people lose.

Top Video Splash
  • When a company reaches the top of the ladder, they typically kick it away so that others cannot climb up on it. The aim? So that another company can't compete.
  • When this happens in the pharmaceutical world, certain companies stay at the top of the ladder, through broadly-protected patents, at the cost of everyday people benefitting from increased competition.
  • Since companies have worked out how to legally game the system, Amin argues we need to get rid of this "one size fits all" system, which treats product innovation — "tweaks" — the same as product invention.