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Forest Bathing

Monday, June 03, 2013

My good SP friend, Watermellen, wrote an amazing blog last week about the ways we can reward ourselves – other than with food. She wrote that we could do something pleasurable for ourselves that doesn’t involve the sense of taste, but that appeals to our other senses of sight, hearing, touch, and/or smell.

You may want to read her blog (Rewarding a Leave It) for a thorough discussion of the topic, including some excellent examples of specific rewards that we might want to try for ourselves.
(And if you do read it, I recommend you click on “I like this blog” because so many Sparkers could benefit from her ideas and suggestions.)

Anyway…. after reading the blog, I found myself writing a rather long response to it, describing how much I enjoy walking in the woods, and how I now understand more clearly that all of my senses are pleasurably engaged during that walk.

And it is so true, I LOVE walking or hiking in the woods. It is one of my favorite activities – and it makes me feel really good.

Watermellen later left me a note saying that the Japanese claim there is an actual physical benefit from walking in the woods because the trees give off some kind of a substance that is beneficial to our health. The term in English that is used is “Forest Bathing.”

Really? Wow!! I'd never heard of that!

I decided to learn more about Forest Bathing. (In Japanese, it is referred to as Shinrin-yoku.)

Starting with Wikipedia, I first read this:
“A forest bathing trip involves visiting a forest for relaxation and recreation while breathing in volatile substances, called phytoncides (wood essential oils), which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees, such as a-pinene and limonene. Incorporating forest bathing trips into a good lifestyle was first proposed in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan. It has now become a recognized relaxation and/or stress management activity in Japan.”

Then, I read a column in the New York Times written in 2010 that mentioned the results of some studies on Forest Bathing. (

One study included data on 280 healthy people in Japan. "On one day, some people were instructed to walk through a forest or wooded area for a few hours, while others walked through a city area. On the second day, they traded places. The scientists found that being among plants produced lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure, among other things."

The author went on to say that “a number of other studies have shown that visiting parks and forests seems to raise levels of white blood cells, including one in 2007 in which men who took two-hour walks in a forest over two days had a 50-percent spike in levels of natural killer cells. And another found an increase in white blood cells that lasted a week in women exposed to phytoncides in forest air.”

An American Forests website blogger wrote in February 2013 that, according to Outside magazine, “The practice of forest bathing is so popular in Japan that the country has designated 48 official Forest Therapy trails, which are used by more than 2.5 million people each year.”

In April 2013, Donna Jackson Nakazawa, an American science journalist and author of The Autoimmune Epidemic, summarized the significant findings when she wrote, “Immunologic studies show us that a walk through a forest pumps up our parasympathetic nervous system and suppresses the sympathetic nervous — or stress-now system — for hours and even days. We do better on memory and attention tests after walking through nature. Immersing ourselves in nature results in lowered levels of inflammatory markers linked to virtually every disease from depression to back pain to autoimmune conditions to cancer.”

These are just a small taste of the pieces about Forest Bathing.
A Google search has produced pages and pages of listings of articles, blogs, columns, and other writings about it.

The U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) lists more than a dozen articles referring to studies about it.

There’s even a Face Book page for it.

I don’t know how I missed all of this before now.

I am happy to see, though, that an activity that I enjoy so much - walking in the woods - turns out to be really good for me…… in more ways than I ever knew.
And there is SCIENCE to support that!

How often does THAT happen?

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(I'll bet some of you thought this blog was going to be about skinny dipping in the pond in the woods, right?
That's probably good for you too -- as long as the snapping turtle doesn't make an appearance.)

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