Forest bathing, also known as shinrin-yoku,
is the ancient practice of visiting a forest and breathing in its air. A Japanese nature therapy practice used as a natural remedy for stress relief and mental fatigue
, forest bathing has received much scientific attention in recent years, with many studies exploring the physiological and psychological benefits of spending time in nature.
For these reasons and others, researchers have begun tracking and comparing the effects of nature excursions such as forest bathing on human health. In addition to psychological benefits, there is now evidence that forest bathing may improve immunological function.
Immunological Benefits of Forest Bathing
A study conducted in Japan explored the effects of forest bathing on immune function. Healthy male participants between the ages of 35 and 55 years were selected to participate in a three-day nature trip that involved hiking in the woods.
Natural killer (NK) cell levels were measured in the men before and after the trip, and nearly all participants experienced an increase in natural killer cell activit
y after the trip.
Natural killer cells are key to the innate immune system and help our bodies reject cancer cells and viral infections. Researchers also measured perforin, granzymes, and granulysin-expression in peripheral blood lymphocytes and found that the trip dramatically increased the production of these anti-cancer
proteins, signifying that forest bathing may indeed increase immunological function.
This wasn't the first study to find shinrin-yoku beneficial for stimulating immune function, however. A study of healthy young females found similar results in natural killer cell production
and anti-cancer proteins after a three-day nature excursion, and found that the results lasted at least seven days after the trip had ended.
Researchers believe that phytoncides
, a type of aromatic compound released from trees and plants, may be responsible for the decrease in hormone stress levels and increase in NK production. Other studies have backed these results and found that NK production levels were still increased even 30 days after such trips, suggesting forest bathing once a month may drastically improve immunological function
Researched Benefits of Forest Bathing
In addition to its benefits on the immune system, forest bathing has been studied for its positive effects on a variety of ailments including:
. Forest bathing has been shown to effectively alter cortisol levels
, a biomarker of stress.
Additionally, the placebo
effect of forest bathing is quite strong and reduced the salivary cortisol levels of participants before they had even experienced the forest bathing intervention.
Depression and anxiety. Anxiety disorders
are the most common form of psychiatric disorder and affect approximately one-third of the population. Further, about 10 percent of those who experience mild forms of depression
are at risk for later developing clinical depression
Researchers have demonstrated that forest bathing effectively lowered heart rate
and systolic blood pressure, indicating an increase in parasympathetic nervous activity and a decrease in sympathetic nervous activity, even when the subject's exposure to natural settings was as short as 15 minutes.
Cardiovascular disease. Researchers studied
the effects of forest walks on healthy individuals in a study involving 48 young adult males. The researchers
measured heart rate variability, systolic blood pressure, and diastolic blood pressure and compared results in participants who walked in the forest as opposed to those who walked in an urban setting.
In addition to these physiological measurements, participants also reported their feelings in questionnaires. Forest walkers reported feeling
"refreshed" after their walk, while urban walkers scored significantly lower in this category.
Overall, researchers suggested
that the positive effects on the cardiovascular response after forest bathing may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
and improve heart and mental health.
Poor mood, anger, and fatigue.
In a study
involving 128 middle-aged or elderly participants, researchers demonstrated that forest walks may improve mood, and found that feelings of anger, fatigue, and bewilderment were significantly lowered after nature walks. These result
s were consistent even when the walks were kept to a one- or two-hour period and a short 2.5 km (1.5 mile) distance.
The benefits of spending time in nature are not new to anyone who has recently visited the forest. It's clear that the physical and psychological benefits of these nature excursions are vast, and researchers are only just beginning to understand the myriad of health conditions that could be improved by forest bathing.
If you'd like more information on the immune system or other ways to naturally stimulate your immune response, please visit the GreenMedInfo.com research database on immunostimulatory agents
. You can also find more studies on the practice of forest bathing
and its research-backed benefits.
The GMI Research Group is dedicated to investigating the most important health and environmental issues of the day. Special emphasis will be placed on environmental health. Our focused and deep research will explore the many ways in which the present condition of the human body directly reflects the true state of the ambient environment. This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of GreenMedInfo LLC. Sign up for the newsletter.