What Is Forest Bathing?
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When was the last time you took an overnight camping trip? It turns out that doing so could be one of the best things you can do to improve your overall physical and mental health.
Science has long associated spending time in nature with improvements in mood and emotional well-being. It also produces physiological benefits, including getting you moving more and increasing your exercise quotient — without the boredom treadmills can create.
Now, investigations into the Japanese practice of forest bathing reveal it may help you shore up your defenses against the next pandemic. How can you reap the benefits? Try these eight healing suggestions to reconnect with the natural world.
The Health Benefits of Forest Bathing
What are phytoncides? Plants emit these beneficial chemicals for self-defense. All plants produce them, making the overwhelming effect of full forest immersion result in superior benefits. These microscopic wonders have antibacterial and antifungal qualities.
However, it turns out that phytoncides protect more than their plant producers. When humans inhale them, it prompts their body to produce more natural killer cells, a vital defender against invading germs. It also ramps up the activity in these cells, making them more likely to seek and obliterate pathogens before they can make you sick.
Best of all, you don’t have to move to a shack in the heart of the forest to reap the benefits — although that admittedly would be awesome. Participants in one study manifested the perks for up to 30 days after exposure. That’s good news for weekend warriors who scarcely get enough time away from their computer screens during the week to enjoy a hike.
Improved immune system function is only one of the many health perks you can derive from spending more time in the natural world.
Consider These Other Fabulous Benefits:
- Increased physical activity levels: Simply getting outdoors encourages you to move more. You might take a nature walk, putter in the garden or play a quick game of catch with your kids. All of these activities improve strength and coordination while burning calories.
- Improved cardiopulmonary function: Although people often associate allergies with the outdoors, research indicates that indoor pollution levels far exceed those you encounter on a hike. Children who grow up playing in rural areas manifest fewer seasonal allergies as adults, and those who live in the greenest areas have lower risks of respiratory diseases.
- Reduced depression: Sunlight is one of the best remedies for seasonal depression. Researchers have also found an association between lower vitamin D levels and major depressive disorder; getting outdoors helps your body produce this nutrient naturally.
- Less anxiety: Even gazing at pictures of natural scenes can reduce stress. Imagine what immersing yourself can do. People who spend considerable time outdoors often have lower cortisol levels, a stress hormone that affects neurotransmitters and may contribute to anxiety.
- Better vision: Children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to develop myopia or nearsightedness. Although researchers remain unsure precisely why, they hypothesize that natural light exposes receptors to different wavelengths.
- Sharper cognitive function: If you need a 3 p.m. pick-me-up, a brisk walk outside is better than coffee. Something about the oxygen-rich fresh air wakes up your brain cells, helping you think clearly.
- Deeper sleep: If you’re a parent, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that your kids sleep better after a thorough romp at the playground. The same principle applies to adults — get moving in the fresh air to sleep more soundly at night.
Ideally, you should spend some time outdoors every day, even for a few minutes. Plan more prolonged exposure for your days off when you have more time, perhaps shaking up your typical workout routine by throwing your yoga mat down in the yard or jogging at the local park instead of a treadmill.
8 Healing Suggestions to Reconnect With Nature
What can you do to reap the benefits of forest bathing for your mental and physical health? Try these eight suggestions.
1. Go Camping
Forest bathing is, in essence, a fancy term for camping. Technically speaking, it refers to immersing yourself in a woodland setting overnight.
Fortunately, you have options if the prospect of a cold ground tent doesn’t strike your fancy. Many of today’s SUVs are plenty roomy enough to lie down or remove the rear seats for a bit of car camping, and you can find rooftop tents that keep you elevated above most creepy crawlies. If you have a bit more green in your pocket, why not check out one of the nation’s hottest glamping locations, where you could bed down in a vintage Airstream, treehouse or yurt?
Increase the enjoyment of your trip by following these safety rules, which are especially important for those new to outdoor adventuring:
- Leave a flight plan: You should always tell someone where you’re going and when you intend to return. The unexpected can happen in the wild, and rescuers must know where to look. Do you use an iPhone? Use the “send location” function to provide the folks back home with your campsite GPS coordinates.
- Pack the essentials: You’ll need more water than you expect, some healthy snacks, a first aid kit, sunscreen and plenty of clean underwear and socks. You can re-wear outer clothes for a day or two, but you must keep bacteria away from your skin.
- Know your limits: Going too far off the beaten trek on your first out is probably a bad idea. Stick with established campsites like KOAs until you gain proficiency at starting fires and reading a compass.
2. Take Lunch Outdoors
Here’s a mini forest-bathing break you can take whenever the weather permits. If your office has an outdoor eating area, take advantage by dining alfresco. What if you lack such a facility? It’s not too hard to get a picnic table or two — put in a request with HR or even start an office petition.
3. Walk Barefoot
Earthing or grounding has reported health benefits. This practice involves putting your naked feet on the earth. According to some, it helps absorb negatively charged ions through your skin, producing a sense of calm.
4. Invest in Houseplants
All plants produce phytoncides. You already know that these biological wonders can help improve indoor air quality by removing contaminants. They also boost your immune system, so get your green thumb in gear.
5. Adopt a Pet
Some pets, like dogs, have to go outside to do their business — meaning their owners enjoy nature more often, too. Furthermore, they could help your youngest family members stave off allergies. Children raised in homes with pets often have fewer than those in more sterile homes.
6. Hike It Mindfully
Hiking is the second-best way to engage in forest bathing. Why not make your next excursion a mindful one?
As you stride, pay attention to how your feet and legs feel as they rise and make contact with the earth. What are some things you can see, hear, feel and smell? Play a game, identifying as many noises as possible and savoring the alternating sensations of hot sun and cool breezes on your skin.
7. Take the Scenic Route
Taking a new route home from work is fabulous for your neuroplasticity. It can also ease stress — and introduce you to new areas to explore.
While you drive, keep your eyes open for new parks and green areas. Pull over and write down the address or save the GPS coordinates on Google Maps if you find a likely escape.
Gardening offers a host of health benefits. Plus, you and your family enjoy the freshest organic produce straight off the vine.
Even urban apartment dwellers can get in on the fun. If you have a sunny stoop or balcony, you can add a container or two. Species like tomatoes and beans thrive in such conditions.
What Is Forest Bathing?
What is forest bathing? It may seem like just a fancy term for camping, but it offers impressive health benefits.
Embrace the eight ideas above for incorporating this practice into your lifestyle. You’ll breathe more freely and improve your chances of warding off germs.