When is taking a walk more than, well, taking a walk? The answer—when it’s done in a forest. At least that’s what research is telling us about forest bathing, immersing oneself in the sensory rich environment of a forest when walking, a popular activity throughout Asia.
For years the Japanese have explored the possibilities of enhancing health while walking in the forest. A name for it, Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing), was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982. And, more recently Japanese researchers have been involved in a project titled the Therapeutic Effects of Forests. One study summarizes the healthful components of forests in terms of the five senses—sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Researchers note, “We have conducted physiological experiments, both in actual forests and in physiological effects on individuals of exposure to the total environment of forests or to only certain elements of this environment, such as the odor of wood, the sound of running stream water, and the scenery of the forest.”
In another study, the researchers compared the stress of walking in a forest with that of walking in a city. Study participant walked in a forest and then a city. Physiological measures of stress were taken after each walk. When the two were compared, forest walking was found to create a more relaxed state: lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure. “The results show that forest environments promote lower concentrations of (stress hormone) cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments”
Results from further studies demonstrate that forest bathing: decreases blood glucose levels; increases the immune system’s human natural killer activity; reduces stress levels; increases relaxation as well as significantly decreases hostility and depression with “liveliness” increased significantly. Physiological measures were utilized to reach the conclusions in all studies.