April 01, 2022 5 min read

Did you know people have never spent more time indoors? The average American spends 93% of their day inside or in a car and spends just 7% of their day outside.

Despite this, we all know that time in nature is good for us. Being surrounded by natural beauty never fails to make us feel better.

The positive impact of nature was highlighted during the 2020 lockdown in England, where a Natural England survey found 85% of adults find time in nature makes them happy, and those that spent time in nature in the last 7-days reported feeling happier than those who hadn't.

Have you ever wondered why time in nature makes us feel better?

"Wherever there are trees, we feel happier and healthier."

This observation isn’t new. In 1982, Japan commenced a national health initiative to encourage people to spend time in forests. The head of the Japanese Forestry Ministry knew instinctively that the woods do people good, and citizens were urged to spend time in the wooded areas.

This initiative was called Shinrin-yoku, which is translated forest bathing.

What is forest bathing?

Forest bathing is a slow, quiet walk-through forest where you activate all five senses as you immerse yourself in nature.

There were two theories behind this national health program. First, that time in nature was good for health, and second, that if people spent time in forests, they would be more willing to protect and look after them.

Between 2004 and 2006 the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries conducted a research project to investigate the therapeutic effects of forests on human health from a scientific perspective. After 3 years the project team had found:

"The project team has found that forest bathing trips reduce the concentration of cortisol in saliva, reduce the concentrations of urinary adrenaline and noradrenaline, reduce prefrontal cerebral activity, reduce blood pressure and stabilize autonomic nervous activity in humans. Moreover, they found that visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer (NK) activity and the expression of anti-cancer proteins including perforin, granzymes A/B and granulysin, and that the increased NK activity and anti-cancer proteins lasted for more than 30 days after the trip "

Dr Qing Li, chairperson of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, has written a book on Forest Medicine. His interest in the restorative power of time in nature came from a person trip he took back in 1988. As a stressed medical student, he took a week out to go camping, and he found his vitality restored.

Dr Li wanted to know why we feel so much better when we are in nature. "Some people study forests. Some people study medicine. I study forest medicine to find out all the ways walking in the forest can improve our wellbeing."

Women in fields. The benefits of forest bathing has been researched all over the world.

What does the forest bathing research tell us?

The health secrets of forest bathing is two-fold - the higher concentration of oxygen existing in a forest, and the presence of phytoncides (natural oils that are part of a plant's defence system against bacteria, insects and fungi). Evergreens, like pine, cedar, spruce and conifers, are the richest producers of phytoncides.

Researchers have found that breathing deeply and inhaling these essential oils as you walk through the forest has a significant impact on health and wellbeing.

Science has shown that our bodies benefit from time in nature in many ways. Here are the highlights.

Relaxation: A 2015 study found that in nature, pulse rates were significantly lower, blood pressure was significantly lower and the feelings of comfort, calm and refreshment were significantly higher than when they were in a city area.

Reduced Stress: A 2007 study of 498 healthy volunteers examined the effects of forest bathing on stress reduction. They concluded that "forest environments are advantageous with respect to acute emotions, especially among those experiencing chronic stress."

Immunity boost: A 2010 study investigated the effect of forest bathing on human immune function, specifically the impact of the wood essential oils (phytoncides) on the natural killer cells that are reported to kill tumours and virus infected cells. The research participants spent 3-days and 2-nights in a forest area and blood and urine samples were taken.

The researchers found that forest bathing increased the natural killer cells activity and a decrease in the production of stress hormones. The increase in natural killer cell activity lasted for more than 30-days after the trip, suggesting that a monthly trip to the forest "may have a preventive effect on cancer generation and development."

Better sleep: In Dr Qing Li’s book, ‘Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness’ he reported that the average sleep of participants after a 2 hour forest walk increased by 15% (or 45 minutes) and they experienced better quality sleep.

A 2015 study looked at the impact on sleep by time in nature and found that access "to the natural environment attenuated the likelihood of reporting insufficient sleep, particularly among men."

If you like the sound of that ...

Woman immersed in awe inspiring nature.

How do you go forest bathing?

Forest bathing is easy. Here are the 5-steps to success.

🍂 Find a spot

New Zealand is blessed with many forest walks. Big or small you can find a peaceful spot near you. All nature walks are great for wellness but for forest bathing pick a spot filled with Pines, Redwoods, Kauris or other conifers.

🍂 Engage your senses

Soak in the natural surrounds by actively listening, smelling, touching, and looking. You want to immerse yourself in awe inspiring nature. Breathe in the unique scents of nature, touch the different textures, listen for the natural sounds, and see the beauty all around you.

🍂 Don't hurry

Walk slowly for at least 20 minutes. The longer the better, so that you completely disconnect from the techno world. The more time you give your body to relax, the greater the impact on your sense of wellbeing.

🍂 Try different activities

When you’re walking engage with your surroundings. Study plants, birdlife, colours, texture. Read, write, sing, or find a quiet place to picnic.

🍂 Appreciate the silence

Swap all the urban noise for the rustling of leaves, birdsong, and babbling water. Focus on the sounds of nature that soothe you.

Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

There is something very special about time spent in nature, and it's hard to believe that something so simple can make such a profound impact on wellbeing.

Woman going forest bathing in New Zealand.

So, where can you go to forest bathe?

In New Zealand, we have 10.1 million hectares of forest, covering 38% of our land, which provide hundreds of places for forest bathing.

There's even 10 Great Walks providing premier tracks in awe inspiring scenery.

Here in NZ, we’re very privileged to never be far from a forest walk. Make some time to get out, explore, and breathe deep -  your body will love you for it!

Finally, sharing is caring. Comment below and share your favourite places to forest bathe. Until next time, take care my friend.

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