Taking a break and getting a big breath of fresh air and feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin can have many health benefits. Japanese researchers in the 1980s developed a concept called “shinrin-yoku,” which means “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere.” It has become a fundamental part of healing many conditions, as well as preventive care.
Understanding the benefits of spending time outdoors, in a forest or park, seems intuitive. There is no fixed quantity of how much nature a person should enjoy or how much time to spend connecting to the outdoors. Instead, it is a question of internal reflection and defining what works best for you.
Exposure to sunlight and fresh air offers your body health benefits that can last a lifetime. Forest bathing stimulates an increase in the parasympathetic nervous system activity which prompts rest, conserves energy, and slows down the heart rate while increasing intestinal and gland activity, improving digestion. The reduced adrenal activity lowers cortisol and other stress hormones calming the body’s stress-response system.
This reduction in stress hormones boosts our immune defenses; in particular, the body’s frontline defenders, such as antiviral natural killer cells, are suppressed by stress hormones. Since forest bathing can lower stress hormone production and elevate mood states, it’s not surprising that it also influences markers of immune system strength.
The scientifically-proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku include:
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
- Increased energy level
- Improved sleep
The Science Behind It
Harvard Health Publishing reports on some of the health benefits of going outdoors:
- Vitamin D levels increase from sunshine, which may help protect the body from “osteoporosis to cancer to depression to heart attacks and strokes.”
- Exercise levels increase, especially for children
- Exercising in nature (called “green exercise”) helps improve mental health – with some studies showing that “just five minutes of green exercise resulted in improvements in self-esteem and mood.”
Quick Tips for Fresh Air Routines
Use technology to your benefit. It’s hard to carve out time for nature, but it can be planned. Take a look at your calendar, and make some time for daily, weekly, and monthly time in nature. Add them to your calendar so you are sure that all of the other tasks of life don’t take over!
- Daily – take a 10 minute walk
- Weekly – make time for a 1-hour walk outdoors, with your smartphone off (or on airplane mode) so that you can be undistracted. Try alone or with friends or family.
- Monthly – plan a half-day or full-day spent outdoors at local parks and nature preserves. For many people, you can plan an outing that’s a short trip away. Wake up early, pack a lunch, and take you and your loved ones to explore nature nearby.
Forest Bathing – In The Spa!
Our Forest Bathing Massage recreates the forest in your treatment room and includes flowing massage, light joint release techniques, and stretching movements to open joints and loosen muscles. This heavenly treatment finishes with hot towel compresses to protect the lungs and stimulate immunity.
Excerpt taken from Living Beautifully. Full book available in-spa and online!