woman takes a deep breath in the forest _ nature baths and their benefits
Healthy Living

Nature Baths: What Are They, and What Are Their Benefits?

Jun 20 2018

Why it’s a positive thing to ditch the cell phone and head outdoors

Fresh air, beautiful scenery, a sense of inner peace — there are so many things to enjoy about spending time in nature. But did you know that heading into the forest may have positive effects on your health? New studies are starting to show that there are measurable wellness benefits from visiting nature. Learn why spending quiet time outdoors during a “nature bath” or enjoying a technology detox in the woods may help boost your immune system and improve your mood.

What is a nature bath?

The idea of nature baths comes from a Japanese concept called shinrin-yoku, which means “forest bathing” or “relaxing in a forest atmosphere.” You don’t need to put on your swimsuit or get wet — during a nature bath, you’re “bathing” in the energy and clean air of the woods.

A nature bath isn’t a brisk hike to raise your heart rate, either. It’s more of a calming stroll that helps you take it easy and appreciate the beauty of your surroundings. Think of it like meditation. You’re relaxing and reflecting while improving your focus and immune system in a soothing setting.

The benefits of nature baths

Heading out for a forest bath may improve your health in a number of ways. Research and studies from Japan and Korea are starting to show the health effects of this therapy. Nature bathing may:

  • Focus your mind
  • Give you more energy
  • Decrease your blood pressure
  • Lower your stress and anxiety levels
  • Boost your immune system and help you recover from an illness faster
  • Cause your body to produce hormones that help you sleep better
  • Improve your mood; some study participants reported that their feelings of depression got better after forest bathing
  • Increase the number of “natural killer” cells in your body, which can find and get rid of cancer cells and bacterial and viral infections

Trees release special compounds into the air called phytoncides. These particles may be partly responsible for the positive effects on blood pressure, natural killer cells, stress and your immune system. Some trees also release a substance called D-limonene, which may decrease inflammation in your body.

How to take a nature bath

One of the best things about forest baths is that they’re so easy to take. To practice shinrin-yoku, all you really need to do is be in the presence of trees at a quiet local park or trail system. However, there are a few more steps you can take to get the most from your nature bath.

Leave your tech at home or in the car. Your phone or camera might distract you. Focus all your attention on the experience. Remember not to set any goals or have any expectations for the walk. You can stroll anywhere your body leads you. Feel free to wander.

Slow your walking pace and your thoughts as you stroll among the trees. Use your senses to tune into what’s going on directly around you. What does the air smell like? What do you hear? What do the rocks and tree bark feel like? Take slow, deep breaths. Sit down and immerse yourself in nature.

If you head into the forest to bond with friends or family members, enjoy some silent time. Wait until the end of your nature bath to talk about your experiences.

Are you curious about more ways to beat stress and live a calmer life? Visit Mercy.com today to make an appointment with a primary care doctor. We’ll share tips and show you health habits that can improve your overall well-being.

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