Take a Forest Bath!

It seems as though nature is GOOD for you!  Science has been investigating the positive effects of forest bathing for some time.  Japanese medicine has been using forest bathing as an integral part of preventative health care and healing since the 1980’s.  What is forest bathing, or forest therapy?  Simply, it’s spending time and connecting to nature through your senses of taste, sight, smell, hearing and touch.  It will quickly lift your mood.

How long has it been since you just listened to the sounds of nature?  A babbling brook, calls of an oriole, chirps from a chipmunk?  What about the scent of a lady slipper or wild rose?  The majestic beauty of a full-grown sugar maple? To fully immerse in your bath, you must ‘unplugging’ from phones, tablets and computers.

The primary benefit of diving into your forest bath are to reduce cortisol levels in your body.  Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone.  We all can use a bit of stress reduction and forest bathing can be a very effective way of reducing stress.  When your body is exposed to elevated cortisol levels as a result of stress in your life, for prolonged periods of time and stressors don’t allow time for the body to regulate back to normal in between, then you may be suffering from chronic stress.  Chronic stress and consistently elevated cortisol levels can lead to anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.  If this is happening to you, work on finding ways to lower stress levels regularly to balance your health, such as exercise or a forest bath!

So, if a mood lift or lower stress levels weren’t enough to get you outside and hug a tree, perhaps the influence a forest bath can have on the strength of your immune system might!  Additional research shows stress hormones negatively affect your body’s defense mechanism, the immune system. When forest bathing, your body gets a boost in levels of natural killer cells which help the body fight against disease because your cortisol levels have decreased.  Your body is better able to fight against bad cells with reduced stress levels.

It seems as though forest air contains a crucial ingredient, not often found in “urban air” that enhances this process.  Inhaling the oils released by trees, which are the natural defense mechanism of trees, is another way to boost your immune system.  It’s like nature’s diffuser at work for you and all you need to do is go out there and INHALE. Then EXHALE. Then REPEAT!

Still not convinced…what if your hike through the woods could be done at a leisurely pace to still reap these benefits?  Well, it can, just being in nature shows positive effects on mood and stress levels.  Although, your heart won’t get as much benefit as it would have if you chose a more purposeful pace.  If you are wanting a bit of both forest bathing and a cardio workout, plan on including a trail through the bush on your next walk!

How can you add in forest bathing into your schedule?  Explore and find nature near you.  Don’t look too far, it could be a group of trees in your neighborhood or a nearby park. Once you are completely surrounded by nature take some time to notice your surroundings with all of your senses.  This is easier if you close your eyes. Notice the smells, sounds and feels of your surroundings.  Can you hear birds or other animals, feel the breeze on your face? That’s it, you are bathing in nature!  Now, try to stay in the moment and enjoy exploring with all your senses for a period of time.

If you don’t live near a forest, try a bare foot walk through the grass.  The negative charge of the earth’s surface has a great effect on our bodies, even perhaps acting as an anti-oxidant!

Get out and explore nature this summer.  Your body will thank you, in more ways than you know! To find out more about forest bathing, click here.

By Sandy Turner, Reg. Kinesiologist, Minto-Mapleton FHT

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