Why is forest bathing so good for you?

Dr Anna McLaughlin

If you haven't heard of forest bathing yet, you're in for a treat. The purpose of forest bathing is to calm your body and mind by mindfully connecting with nature.

Forest bathing is scientifically proven to be good for your mental and physical health because it lowers stress levels, boosts immunity and improves mood. So, if you're looking for a way to improve your well-being, consider giving forest bathing a try!

What is forest bathing?

Forest bathing is an ancient relaxation practice that comes from Japan, which is also known as Shinrin-yoku. Forest bathing is the act of slowly and mindfully taking in your natural surroundings. Although you don’t literally take a bath, the goal is to bathe in the environment of the forest, using all your senses to soak up the beauty of nature. Forest bathing could involve walking, sitting, meditating or exercising in a forest environment or a similar type of quiet and peaceful green space

In Japan, forest bathing has been linked to many mental and physical health benefits, which led scientists to research how spending time in nature can help us to improve our health and wellbeing. One of the first scientists in Japan to research forest bathing, Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, said:

“Although the simple act of walking in a forest might not seem extraordinary, the benefits that people experience during and after a session of forest therapy really are.”

What are the benefits of forest bathing?

According to a 2019 medical review published in the journal Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, forest bathing has many positive effects on our bodies and minds by lowering stress levels, enhancing immunity and improving mood. This can lead to a wide variety of improvements in physical and mental health, such as:

Physical health: Forest bathing can regulate blood pressure, which improves heart health and decreases the risk of heart disease. It can also reduce blood sugar levels, which helps to prevent diabetes. Forest bathing can even boost immune system activity in patients fighting cancer!

Mental health: The benefits of forest bathing also extend to our mental health. Being in the quiet and green environment of a forest brings a sense of security and calm to our minds, which helps to reduce anxiety and negative emotions. A scientific review looking at the psychological benefits of forest bathing found that forest bathing was particularly helpful for people experiencing depression, anxiety, loneliness, or social isolation.

How does forest bathing work?

Forest bathing essentially works by reducing our stress levels and boosting our immune system’s defences. Scientists believe that one of the key reasons forest bathing is relaxing is because the colours of nature are soothing, according to a report conducted by Forestry England. Studies have shown that people relax best while seeing greens and blues, and these colours can be found everywhere in nature.

Simply practising forest bathing for 15 minutes can significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol levels decrease, this helps activate the body’s relaxation response, which leads to improvements in mood and immune system function. demonstrated in a 2019 study, published in the International Journal of Biometeorology, where people who spent 15 minutes walking or sitting in a forest showed a significant decrease in their cortisol levels.

Another reason why forest bathing is so beneficial for our health is due to how peaceful and quiet forests are compared with city environments. For example, people who walked for 15 minutes in a forest experienced a large reduction in their stress levels compared with people who walked for the same amount of time in an urban environment. Although walking is good for our health wherever we do it, walking in nature can help you experience even more of the health benefits of doing physical activity.

Use your five senses to maximise the benefits

The best way to maximise the benefits of forest bathing is by using mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness goes hand in hand with forest bathing because it encourages you to experience nature using all five senses (vision, smell, hearing, touch, and taste). Mindfulness practice helps your brain switch off and fully connect with the present moment, which has been shown to improve mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

Try these mindfulness techniques to help get you in touch with each of your senses:

VISION: Move through the forest slowly so you can be observant. Look closely at nature’s small details and the colours around you. What can you see?

HEARING: Move quietly so that you can pick up small noises, like the wind rustling in the trees or forest animals and birds moving around you. You might be surprised by the number of wild forest inhabitants you can hear using this process.

TOUCH: Take your time and stop to run your hands over tree trunks or pick up fallen leaves. If you’re able to, try to find a spot where you can take off your shoes and put your bare feet on the ground for a moment.

SMELL: Take in slow, deep breaths through your nose and try to pull the air deep into your abdomen (where your lower ribs are). What can you smell?

TASTE: As you practice deep and slow breathing, try to notice the difference in air quality. Does the air taste cleaner and fresher?

Practising the above mindfulness techniques will allow you to form a deeper connection with nature. The benefits of forest bathing become even stronger when combined with mindfulness.

Start forest bathing today

Forest bathing is a great way to naturally boost your health and well-being by lowering stress levels, enhancing immunity and improving mood. If you don’t have a forest environment nearby, try to find a peaceful and quiet park, lake or beach instead.

Remember to work your way through the mindful techniques so that you fully experience your surroundings using all five senses. This will allow the healing power of nature to revitalise your body and mind. Science shows that you can experience the benefits of forest bathing in as little as 15 minutes, so why not get started today!