"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."- John Muir
I always felt that spending time in the forest had health benefits beyond the immediate exercise. Now, repeated studies support what many have felt for a long time - a walk in the forest is a very good thing for physical, mental, and spiritual health.
In Japan people visit nature parks and spend time among the trees practicing ‘Shinrinyoku’, or forest bathing. Doctors prescribe time in the forest for the health benefits of nature. Research has shown that this contact reduces stress levels, and strengthens the part of the immune system that fights cancer.
The Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, established in 2007, conducts studies to test the beneficial effects of nature, forests in particular. One study lead to the recommendation that repeated forest bathing may help decrease the risk of stress-related illness.
Not only that, but the unique forest smell has beneficial effects as well. Another study of forest bathing attributed increased immune activity partly to breathing in air containing phytoncide (wood essential oils) like α-pinene and limonene. These oils are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds emitted from trees to protect them from rotting and insects.
Two of Vancouver Island's native trees, the Western red-cedar and Douglas-fir, are rich in essential oils. The wood of these trees has long been known for being rot resistant, but now it looks like sniffing them can help us boost our immune system and resist some cancers. The researchers found that the elevated immune response was evident for many days after being in the forest.
Recently forest advocates in a different part of the globe were also extolling the virtues of trees and forests. Medical practitioners in Wales are being urged to prescribe their patients a walk in the woods as a natural treatment for a range of physical and mental health conditions.
Forestry Commission Wales wants to encourage doctors to prescribe a walk in the woods instead of referring them to their local gym. The commission believes that walks in the woods can help people live longer, healthier lives.
If you take a whole day, it is better to stay in the forest for about 4 hours and walk about 5 kilometres. If you take a half day forest bathing, it is better to stay in the forest for about 2 hours and walk about 2.5 kilometres.
If you feel tired, you can take a rest anywhere and anytime you like.
If you feel thirsty, you can drink water/tea anywhere and anytime you like.
Find a place in the forest you like. Then, sit for a while and read or enjoy the beautiful scenery.
If it is possible, it is better to take a hot spring bath (a spa) after the forest bathing.
You can select the forest bathing course based on your purpose.
If you want to boost your immunity, a three-day/two-night forest bathing trip would be recommended.
If you just want to relax for reducing your stress, a day trip to a forest near to your home would be recommended.
Forest bathing is just a preventive measure for diseases; therefore, if you come down with an illness, I would recommend you to see a doctor – not visit a forest.
VIBT heartily recommends a forest bath today. Forests as small as 1 acre have been shown to be large enough to produce benefits. Not yet studied, but more than likely beneficial as well, are walks in parks with a good density of trees.
Have fun wherever you immerse yourself in nature, and rest assured that you are benefiting from bathing in everything the forest freely offers.