Sometimes, you really just need a breath of fresh forest air. No, seriously — the practice of Japanese forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and strengthen your immune system. Its therapeutic effects have officially been celebrated since 1982, but the appreciation of immersing yourself in nature has been going on for centuries.
Soak It All In
Shinrin-yoku, the act of soaking in nature through all five senses, was inspired by ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices and was actually promoted as therapy by Japan’s forests ministry in 1982. But before you pack up your Fitbit and fancy camping equipment for a weekend adventure, note an important distinction: the idea is to simply relax and take in the beauty of your natural surroundings. As certified forest bathing guide Gregg Berman tells Quartz: “Don’t effort.” We like the sound of that.
So what’s the science? The Japanese government has contributed more than $4 million toward forest bathing research since 2004, including the creation of Forest Therapy sites. When visitors enter these sites, rangers will collect data by doing things like measuring their blood pressure. It makes sense that city-dwellers would flock to the woods to escape the daily grind, but the benefits of forest therapy go beyond stress management.
In a 2009 study, Qing Li, a professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, studied subjects before and after they experienced forest bathing. Li measured an increase in natural killer (NK) white blood cells that are associated with the body’s innate immune system. In another study, researchers found similar results after a quick 30-minute visit.
A Dose Of Nature
If you’ve been feeling particularly amped recently, a dose of the great outdoors could also soothe your spirit. The psychological effects of an afternoon walk through the park include a significant decrease in stress and depression symptoms, as well as reduced hostility and even “increased liveliness.” It’s time to find a nearby green space, break away from your screen, remove your earbuds, and soak in some nature.