My daughter in law said we were “forest bathing” when we walked a beautiful, wooded trail near our home recently. And she was right! Actually that is a Japanese practice known as Shinrin-yoku, which simply refers to spending time in nature.
I wrote, not too long ago, about the benefits of being out in nature. An extensive study of over 290 million people confirmed that spending time in undeveloped “greenspace” led to significant reductions in diastolic blood pressure, salivary cortisol, a marker of stress, and heart rate, as well as significant decreases in Type 2 diabetes and mortality from all causes and those specifically related to the heart.
Access to greenspace and nature impacts mental and emotional health as well as physical health. Walking or exercising in a natural environment can help with mild depression and reduce stress.
While “forest bathing” specifically talks about spending time in a forest environment as opposed to a city environment, the important thing is being in a natural environment surrounded by trees and greenery. Benefits of being in a forest include lower cortisol, pulse rate and blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity. It has even been shown to boost the immune system by increasing activity of natural killer cells and the expression of anticancer proteins.
If you are wondering why being in the forest can have such a powerful impact on health, it is believed that phytoncides, volatile compounds that include alpha-pinene and beta-pinene, are released from trees into the forest air. Studies show these compounds reduce stress hormones and anxiety while improving blood pressure and immunity.
While I don’t expect doctors to replace drug prescriptions with “nature prescriptions” any time soon, I believe it is a simple, elegant and enjoyable way to improve overall health that we could all benefit from. Even including plants in your living space and pictures or photographs of nature is also therapeutic.
What would you think if your doctor prescribed time in nature?
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