Yes, You Can Bathe in the Forest

A few hours in a natural environment and your blood pressure and stress drop.

Posted Feb 20, 2018

Patricia Prijatel
Source: Patricia Prijatel

The Japanese have a concept called shinrin-yoku, roughly translated as forest bathing. It originated in 1982 when the country’s forest agency began to encourage wellbeing to combat the threat of suicide in Japan, which at that time was the highest in the world. The idea is to walk deliberately and slowly in the woods, observing, breathing, and appreciating. The result is a drop in blood pressure and in cortisol, a stress hormone.

The forest heals us as we bathe in the light, the air, the calm of nature. Researchers have discovered that:

•Blood glucose levels dropped the morning after a 2-3 mile walk in the woods.

• Feelings of hostility and anger were reduced after spending a day in nature.

• Some people can get the same result artificially, by viewing nature on large, high-resolution TV screens. For others, nada.

• Natural wood smells in small quantities can reduce stress. Strong smells, though, increase it, probably because natural smells are subtle, just whiffs we experience before they waft away.

• Listening to natural sounds—a brook in this case—can't reduce the stress of artificial noise from a wind turbine. Seems like that was asking a lot.

Then there's the healing silence.

Imagine a forest so quiet you can hear the grass rustle in the wind on the other side of a large meadow. No cars, no cell phone conversations, no bass sounds from some kid’s stereo, no blasted leaf blowers. Conservationists are fighting to preserve this kind of landscape, America’s wild space, to quiet the country’s jittery nerves.

The quality of what they call our soundscape is a measure of our stress. Quiet places in nature, with their soothing background sounds of birds chirping and water trickling and wind rushing through the trees, are calming. Cities are perpetually tense.

Nature is full of learning, if only we can listen.