I think we will all agree that being told to stay indoors during ‘lockdown’ was something everyone found challenging. There has been a alot of research into how our bodies respond to being in nature. Intuitively we feel good when we are in a natural environment and we now have scientific evidence that shows being in a natural environment has a positive effect on our wellbeing.
If you live in West Essex where we have Epping Forest on our doorstep you may already enjoy a walk in the woods, however if you need encouragement to leave your comfy sofa keep reading as I have some facts that may convince you.
The Japanese, many of whom live in densely populated cities, have recognised the health benefits of being ‘in nature’ and taken this a step further by creating Shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing'. This term was first used in 1982 by the director of the Japanese Forestry Agency and refers to immersing oneself in a forest and connecting deeply to the environment through our senses. It is a very pleasurable exercise in immersing yourself in your sensory experience of the forest by paying close attention to the sights, sounds and smells of your natural surroundings.
Forest bathing does not involve strenuous activity so is accessible to anyone regardless of how fit they are. In fact it is best done slowly as the idea is to notice everything around you, both large and small. For example, the quality of light, the different types of plants and insects or wild animals, all of which might be missed if you are walking speedily by. It has been proven so effective at stress reduction that major corporations based in Tokyo regularly send their staff on Shinrin-yoku holidays.
Dr Yoshifumi Miyazaki pioneered studies over many years on the effect of forest bathing on the body and summarises the key results in a book he has written on the subject. The studies found that after two hours of ‘forest bathing’, cortisol, one of the hormones produced profusely when we are under stress, was reduced by 15.8%, pulse rate slowed by 3.9%, blood pressure dropped by 2.1% and parasympathetic nerve activity (the part of our nervous system that is more fully engaged when we feel calm) went up by 102%. (Miyazaki Y 2018). Of course, what cannot be measured is the pleasure and enjoyment we get from feeling so connected to our natural surroundings.
So why not try a little forest bathing yourself this season? Autumn is the time the forest puts on a huge show and the perfect chance for us to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Learn more about forest bathing