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The Effects Of Forest Bathing On The Immune System

The Effects Of Forest Bathing On The Immune System

Over recent years, people have begun to see the importance of eating healthily, getting regular exercise, and taking care of their mental health more than ever before. The treat-the-disease mindset has shifted into a prevent-the-disease revolution for many people across the globe. Since a vast number of chronic diseases can be entirely prevented through healthy living, there’s a lot of sense in practicing healthy habits right out of the gate.

Many people focus heavily on one thing or another, such as fitness, food, or mental health. The secret to staying healthy, though, is to rely on all three as a way to prevent the body from deteriorating into illness. One trend that has been picking up steam as a way to balance the effects of sedentary living and stress is forest bathing. But what is forest bathing, exactly? And are there any proven health benefits of forest bathing?

What is forest bathing?

Forest bathing originated in Japan in the 1980s as an exercise known as shinrin-yoku. It was designed to benefit both the physiological and psychological aspects of human health. The term essentially refers to taking in the forest atmosphere, which has two main purposes: inspiring people to reconnect with nature, and providing an antidote to the often tech-driven stresses of life.

While some may liken forest bathing simply to hiking or exercising in the wildness, the two are not one and the same. The focus of shinrin-yoku is simply being in nature and connecting to it through all five senses. It is designed to act as a bridge of sorts, connecting people with the natural world from which many have found themselves quite far away.

It’s estimated that over half of the world’s population will ditch Mother Nature for manmade cities by 2050. Studies have also shown that the majority of American citizens spend over 90% of their time inside. This disconnection with the natural world is often regarded as a driver of some of the stress and anxiety that many people feel on a daily basis. An increase in mental health issues has been especially highlighted due to worldwide stay-at-home orders throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.


Image by Joonas Sild on Unsplash: Do trees boost the immune system?


What are the benefits of forest bathing?

There are many health benefits associated with forest bathing, and the good news is that reaping them doesn’t require you to ditch city living and go off the grid entirely. According to an article published in Time’s online magazine, taking just two hours to forest bathe can help remove some of the stress that has been added into the daily lives of most people across the globe. But what exactly are the benefits of forest bathing?

Improves heart health

According to a study published in 2016, forest bathing can have a positive effect on the cardiovascular and metabolic systems. The study followed middle-aged male subjects as they took day trips into a forest park, spending time walking through nature. The cardiovascular and metabolic parameters of each participant were measured before, during, and after the trips. The results found that just from spending time in nature, the men had a reduced pulse rate and higher levels of vigor.

Reduces stress and improves mood

More than one study has found that forest bathing can help to reduce stress levels and boost mood. The aforementioned study regarding heart health also found that the participants who participated in the forest bathing exercise scored significantly lower for depression, anxiety, and confusion following their time in nature. The act of forest bathing also decreased levels of certain hormones that are known to be associated with poor mood and mental health struggles.

Another study looked at the effect forest bathing had on levels of cortisol, which is the stress hormone. The study looked at two groups: one that was forest bathing and one that was in an urban setting. The researchers measured the levels of cortisol in the body for the participants in each group. Levels in the bodies of the forest bathing group were significantly lower than those who stayed in urban settings.


Image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash: Is there a connection between forest bathing and immunity?


Does walking in the forest improve your immune system?

When it comes to immune health and forest bathing, studies have shown that fighting off foreign pathogens may be better handled by a body that’s been in nature. One particular study found that spending time in nature could help to increase natural killer cells and enhance their ability to do their job. This type of cell belongs to the innate immune system and is tasked with a non-specific immune response; natural killer cells can stop the spread of infections and even control some types of tumors in the body. Because natural killer cells are so important for immunity, and because time in nature can help improve their levels as well as their ability to function properly, forest bathing has shown to be a great immune booster.

Forest bathing on a regular basis can have tremendous health benefits for people who are willing to unplug and take in the beauty of mother nature uninterrupted. When it comes to immune health, especially during a worldwide pandemic, spending time out among the trees may be one of the best things you can do for yourself.


Featured image by Michal Vrba on Unsplash

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