Do you find yourself feeling relaxed and recharged after time spent in nature? The Japanese have recognized and described this phenomenon for some time. In 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries coined term “forest bathing,” or “shinrin-yoku,” in Japanese. The term was developed as part of a Japanese national health promotion and the practice has shown tremendous health benefits. And what may come to your surprise, forest bathing can enhance your gut health status.
Forest bathing is the act of immersing oneself in peacefulness of nature. It combines low intensity activity with mindfulness in a natural environment. Forest bathing invites you to be present with the sights, sounds and smells of nature without distraction from technology, and everyday life. While hiking and taking a stroll through the woods may not be a new activity, forest bathing incorporates more of a peaceful presence and awareness of oneself and nature.
Forest bathing has a range of health benefits. Let’s explore a few based on the available research.
Health Benefits of Forest Bathing
It’s no surprise that walking, or hiking is great for your physical health, however what makes forest bathing an even more beneficial activity is that it has shown to have a positive impact on mental and emotional health, improve blood pressure, and improve mood. Natural environments, and nature scenes activate our parasympathetic nervous system in a way that reduces stress and improves our connection to nature. Additionally, research has found that an experience in nature, such as a hike or forest bath, may improve verbal working memory. In addition to the positive impacts of forest bathing on cognition, the positive impacts on mood are promising. A study conducted on young adults that examined the psychological benefits of brief walks through the forest found that those who completed these forest walks showed decreased negative moods, and improvement in levels of anxiety.
We are also learning that forest bathing and time in nature can positively impact our gut health!
Forest Bathing’s Effect on Gut Health
The impact of nature activities has shown tremendous overall health benefits and an even greater benefit on your gut microbiome. Our gut microbiome is pretty diverse, meaning it contains hundreds of different bacteria (and yeasts and fungi!), and the more varied your gut microbiome the better. Our daily activities affect our microbiome: from the foods we eat, the medications we take, and in fact the physical activities we engage in. Nature can help keep your gut healthy by relieving stress that can take a toll on your microbiome. More stress = an environment favorable to bad bacteria. As bad bacteria thrive, a feedback cycle keeps the bad bacteria dominant, making it impossible for the good bacteria to take over. Spending time forest bathing can reduce stress and keep you gut microbiome happy and healthy.
Beyond stress relief that encourages a healthy microbiome, forest bathing can actually expose us to bacteria that have powerful health benefits, namely soil-based bacteria. There is evidence that exposure to soil-based bacteria may play a role in protecting against certain modern chronic diseases. Studies have shown this type of bacteria reduces symptoms indicative of “leaky gut” syndrome. Such findings may give an argument for veering off the beaten path and actually getting into contact with…dirt, plants, leaves, bark, etc. Don’t be afraid to get a little dirty and take your time getting “clean” again. After all, the bacteria in that “dirt” could be what your immune and digestive systems need to be their healthiest!
How to Practice Forest Bathing
Practicing forest bathing isn’t a very difficult task and doesn’t take much practicing as it does actually doing. Simply taking a walk in the woodsy area of your favorite park is the perfect way to spend time doing this mindful activity. The key to forest bathing is just being present with nature and taking in the natural setting.
Taking a walk, or hike in the woods or park and take a few deep breaths on your trail.
As appropriate, get in physical contact with the flora and fauna for the most benefit
Try forest bathing for 30 mins at first, then work your way up to longer trips.
Leave your phone at home or in the car to get rid of most other distractions.
Use your senses, observe the trees, flowers, and the sky, smell the smells of the woods or forest, hear the trees bustle in the wind, hear the birds and insects make their noises.
Explore new destinations, travel a few extra miles to get to a quiet area, and explore in-depth.
Spend time in deep thought and spend time meditating and reflecting along your trail.
Forest bathing is an excellent mindful activity to practice that doesn’t take much effort and has many health benefits. You may be already taking some trips through the woods, or exploring your favorite hiking trail, and if you have yet to discover what nature has to offer, now may be the perfect time.
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