Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Forest Bathing


Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is a Japanese term for spending time in the forest with the purpose of decreasing stress and other negative feelings. While there are quite a few studies showing walking in the woods is beneficial, it is difficult to find evidence as to what specifically, or holistically, is the acting agent(s). It is hypothesised that phytoncides, volatile substances given off by plants , may be the primary agent working as a sort of aromatherapy. Another hypothesis is that our technological and social evolution has developed faster than our biological evolution and that humans still feel more at home, and therefore more at ease, in the forest.

While I wouldn’t label these studies as particularly rigorous, anyone who has walked in the woods can certainly attest to its positive effects on well-being. Whether forests are good for us or cities are detrimental, taking a walk in nature is an easy way to decrease stress levels. The exercise alone will bring positive results. Additionally, taking time for some mindfulness exercises will also increase well-being. And the thrill of a new adventure is always stimulating.

That being said, there are certain precautions to be taken when embarking on any outdoor trip:
• Let someone know where you will be and when you expect to return
• Know the layout of the trails or have a map
• Check weather conditions
• Pack adequate food, clothing, water…
• Carry a first aid kit
• Travel with a companion or group
• Carry bear spray

Furthermore, those suffering from specific fears of the woods should consider working through an exposure hierarchy and ensure they have an exit strategy if the situation becomes too stressful.

A 2011 study demonstrating decreased cortisol levels and increased parasympathetic activity.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21288543

A 2007 study showing similar results.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17435356

A 2008 study/review that admirably tried to control for forest-like settings. Not surprisingly, the results were inconclusive, but one wouldn’t really expect to get the same physiological response from sitting in a wood room as from walking in a forest. This paper also reviews some other forest bathing studies.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793347/?tool=pubmed

A 2010 review of 24 studies.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568835

A 2010 study concluding that time in the forest increases expression of anti-cancer proteins.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18336737

2 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness... I didn't realize this was an official "thing"!!! I've always found being in the forest to be intensely therapeutic ever since I was a young teenager (I'd always be wandering off) and it's where I've gone to do much of my writing... People would ask me when was I most happy? I'd say in the forest... nice to to know I'm not so weird:)

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  2. Very interesting...some of my patient told me about positive effects of "forest bathing". Didn't know that there are also studies :-)))

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