Walking amongst the trees could soon become a mainstream alternative treatment for a plethora of health issues. From depression to high blood pressure, “forest therapy” has long been used as a form of natural therapy in Japan and is slowly making its way around the world.
“Shinrin Yoku” or “Forest Bathing” is defined as the ability to take in the forest atmosphere. Developed in Japan in the 1980’s, the natural form of therapy calls for a return to nature to improve mental health.
The idea is that “forest bathing” can have a huge amount of emotional and physical benefits and works by inducing a form of mindfulness much like meditation.
According to those who initiated the practice, nature helps to calm the nervous system, promote positivity and also aids in lowering blood pressure and increasing mindfulness.
“Research tells us that spending time in anything to do with nature – forests, the sea, wildlife – restores us, and can help us to effectively manage stress. Studies show that even having an indoor plant or pictures of nature on the wall makes a difference to our wellbeing. One even found that people at a nursing home lived longer [when they were given a plant to care for],” says psychologist Sarah-Jayne Whiston.
In a study conducted by Yoshifumi Miyazaki, director of the Center for Environment Health and Field Sciences at Chiba University, those who were exposed to nature for just 20 minutes a day, reported a 13.4 per cent drop in salivary cortisol – our stress hormone.
“Humans had lived in nature for 5 million years. We were made to fit a natural environment. So we feel stress in an urban area,” Miyazaki said. “When we are exposed to nature, our bodies go back to how they should be.”
According to Li Qing, a professor of forest medicine at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, “forest therapy” also helps to strengthen the immune system by boosting NK cell production.
“When NK activity increases, immune strength is enhanced, which boosts resistance against stress,” Li said, adding that forest therapy for immune-compromised patients could be incorporated into regular treatment within a few years.
So next time your taking a leisurely stroll in the woods, or contemplating a weekend getaway, head for the hills to improve your mental health.