Forest bathing is a term invented by the Japanese in the 1980s. It seems to conjure up the perfect image. Most of us are quite aware that a walk in the woods has the ability to renew our spirits. Stress levels are reduced, we sleep better, feel more focused and our mood is improved.
So, not that surprising, there is quantifiable evidence that spending time in nature really does have an impact on our well being. When we breathe in the air of the forest we are breathing in phytoncides. (Recall the times you and your companions have been compelled to sigh deeply soon after starting on an outdoor adventure). Phytoncides (“phyto” meaning plant and “cides” meaning to exterminate) are essential oils released by trees that they use to protect themselves from harmful insects and bacteria. These air-born chemicals have antibacterial and antifungal properties. In people they stimulate a type of white blood cells called Natural Killer Cells. These are known to kill virus and tumor cells in our bodies.
Numerous studies have indicated that breathing in forest air helps to control blood sugar, improves over-all immunity, and may even be an important factor in the prevention of cancer or benefit people who have cancer.
Other scientific evidence of the positive effects that forest therapy has on our bodies is striking. One such study conducted at John Hopkins University School of Medicine investigated the effects of nature scenery and sounds on pain perception. Patients who required a painful procedure were better able to tolerate the pain when simply exposed to natural images and sounds without actually being in the woods, providing a safe and inexpensive way to reduce pain.
Exposure to forests does make us healthier and happier in both mind and body. Even better there are no negative side effects and no cost. Life is good in the woods! – – – P.S. Many thanks to Karin for inspiring this inquiry.