Find out how Japanese people discovered the health benefits of forest bathing - and why it might be on your prescription the next time you go to the doctors.
In the 1800s, it was all about sea bathing. Immersion in the sea waters and “taking the sea air” was prescribed by Victorian doctors as a cure-all for the illnesses of the time, including scurvy, gout and jaundice.
Today’s equivalent is forest bathing. Immersion in a forest atmosphere is increasingly being seen as beneficial for the illnesses of our time, including depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease and obesity. It is also a soothing way to reconnect with the natural world as we live increasingly frantic, urban lives.
What is forest bathing?
As is so often the case, the Japanese were on to it first, back in the 1980s. They call it Shinrin Yoku, which translates as “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere.” It has since become an important part of Japanese preventative medicine, as well as being incorporated into the lifestyles of a large proportion of Japanese people. There are even 48 officially designated Forest Therapy Bases.
A walk in the forest or ideally, according to expert Dr. Qing Li of the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, a 3 day stay, has far reaching therapeutic effects. The original theory has been backed up by scientific studies and forest bathing is now proven to be good for us. It lowers your blood pressure, reduces your levels of stress hormones and increases levels of a hormone called serum adiponectin, which helps prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Why do we need forest bathing?
Back in 2008 we reached a global milestone with more people living in cities and towns than in the countryside. In the UK, over 80% of us live in cities or towns which cover only 7% of our land. This means that millions of us are caught in the crowds and the concrete of our daily commute. And yet, to quote Gregory Bateman of Stanford University in California, urban living is “the blink of an eye in terms of human evolution.” What this means is that we are a living experiment –we are finding out, for the first time in our evolution, what it is like to be one step removed from the natural world. And the signs are not good. We’re getting more depressed, more stressed and we’re putting on weight.
The answer is to spend more time in our natural state, literally in nature. Many of us have discovered this already (we certainly have at Forest Holidays) but it seems even the medics are now picking up on it. According to psychologist Dr Mathew White of Exeter University in an interview with the BBC, several projects are underway to try to develop "green prescriptions" for exposure to nature that would help people going through anxiety or depression.
“It would seem…that man is naturally a wild animal, and that when taken from the woods, he is never happy in his natural state, 'till he returns to them again.”
Benjamin Rush, A founding father of America
Where can you go forest bathing?
Here in the UK, the buzz around forest bathing is picking up. As yet, we don’t have nationally designated Forest Therapy Bases, so may we humbly suggest our UK Forest Holiday locations as ideal spots for forest bathing. Our guests have repeatedly commented on the almost instant feeling of peace and tranquillity they experience as the forest envelopes them. And we are doubly blessed because our locations give instant access to acres of Forestry Commission woodland.
Stay with us for a short break and feel yourself breathe again as you reconnect with nature. If you live locally, come for a walk to take in the atmosphere of the forest and feel your tensions slide away. After your forest bathing come and enjoy coffee or hot chocolate at the Forest Retreat – we’re sure the Japanese would approve.
In short, don’t wait for the doctors to catch up, write your own prescription for a spot of forest bathing and feel the benefits.