You don’t even have to take your clothes off: forest bathing isn’t about getting wet. June is National Great Outdoors Month, but we’re not talking about enforced route marches up bear-infested mountain trails. Just being in some green space near you can deliver significant health benefits.
A public health program begun in Japan in 1982 prescribed Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing as a preventative health tool. The idea is to simply spend time amongst trees, or similar natural surroundings, without striving to achieve anything, count steps or monitor your heart rate. Just be.
The results, from studies carried out in Japan, the Netherlands and Australia, are clear.
Lower Blood Pressure
A 2016 study showed that spending at least 30 minutes a week reduced participants’ blood pressure by 7% in the first month. Other studies report similar reductions and the more frequent these doses of nature, the greater the benefits.
The same study showed depression rates reduced by 9%, after just 30 minute exposure per week, and a study from the Netherlands in 2005 showed people felt healthier when they lived in an area with substantial green space near to them.
Lower Stress Levels
Numerous studies have shown that spending time in green space – whether exercising outdoors, gardening, or socialising, all have benefits in lowering stress. This is where the Japanese idea of simply being, noticing what is around you, listening to birds and other natural sounds reduce stress by relaxed focus, rather than our habitual method of hurrying to our destination without paying attention.
Now, if you only sit on a bench in the park, your fitness won’t improve greatly. But getting to green space often involves more walking than usual, and there are often other opportunities to exercise while you’re there: Tai Chi classes are often held outdoors in good weather, why not give it a try? A walk in the park can also be a good excuse to catch up with a friend, giving your mood an extra boost.
So take advantage of bright summer days and come into the natural light, breathe some fresh air. After all, our oxygen comes from those trees, it’s bound to be freshest closest to the source.