“Forest Bathing” Could Soon Be Prescribed By Doctors
The Japanese health trend is sweeping the nation—for good reason.
By Maria Carter
May 23, 2016
In the past year, science has proven that spending time outdoors leaves people feeling younger and happier, and helps combat depression, loneliness, and certain symptoms of dementia. But the research, while fascinating, isn’t exactly news to the Japanese: Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”—”soaking up the sights, smells, and sounds of a natural setting to promote health”—has been a popular practice on the island nation for at least 30 years, the Washington Post reports. It’s is even covered by most health insurance policies there.
Forest bathers, when compared to their urban counterparts, exhibit lower blood pressure, heart rate, and concentrations of the stress-hormone salivary cortisol, according to a 2010 study spanning 24 Japanese forests, the Post reports. Other studies have found a correlation between forest bathing and an increase in white blood cells and other immune-system indicators.
Researchers aren’t sure what’s behind forest bathing’s health benefits, but some suspect that when people breathe in phytoncides—antimicrobial compounds emitted by plants, which give the forest its unique “aroma”—they experience relaxation. Other researchers say the sense of awe we feel when contemplating nature is one of the positive emotions that boost health.
Like many healing modalities from the East, forest bathing started by gaining traction among celebrities and in California.”I think about where yoga was 30 years ago and where it is today, and I realize that forest therapy is making the same journey toward cultural definition,” Ben Page, founder of Shinrin Yoku Los Angeles, told the Post.
In other words, keep your weekend camping plans but don’t expect a doctor’s note to go hiking anytime soon.