A number of scientific studies emphasize that reveling in the great outdoors promotes human health. Spending time in natural environments has been linked to lower stress levels, improved working memory and feeling more alive, among other positive attributes.
In an effort to combat our indoor epidemic and reap these health benefits, a growing number of Americans have become followers of a Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku. Coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982, the word literally translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing” and refers to the process of soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of a natural setting to promote physiological and psychological health.
A 2010 study using data from field experiments conducted in 24 forests across Japan found that subjects who participated in forest bathing had lower blood pressure, heart rate and concentrations of salivary cortisol — a stress hormone — when compared with those who walked through a city setting. Studies performed in other countries, such as Finland and the United States showed similar reductions in tension and anxiety.
Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, was developed in Japan in the 1980s, and it is becoming a staple of preventative healthcare and healing in Japanese medicine. Although the practice is growing, it is still relatively unknown here. Basically, forest bathing is immersion in the forest as a way to clear your mind and open your senses. “It is not a nature walk where you’re leading with your head. It’s not a hike. It’s not exercise where we’re trying to get our heart rate up. It is using our senses to connect with nature.