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Japan’s Forest Bathing Gives Scientific Reasoning Behind Nature Adventures

Grant Allen/Adventure Tribune
A new medical trend has taken root in Japan: forest bathing.

Recently, a “new” trend in medicine has erupted throughout Japan, especially in patients who live in urban areas and suffer from depression, anxiety, and nervousness.

The new trend is called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, which recommends that patients spend time walking through the trees and experience nature first-hand.

“The idea with shinrin-yoku, a term coined by the [Japanese] government in 1982 but inspired by ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices, is to let nature enter your body through all five senses,” says Florence Williams of Outside Magazine.

Forest bathing asks participants to leave electronics at home and experience the forest through sight, sound, touch, smell, and even taste (drinking natural tea, usually).

“It essentially involves hanging out in the woods,” says Williams. “It’s not about wilderness; it’s about the nature-civilization hybrid the Japanese have cultivated for thousands of years.”

If taking a walking in the forest doesn’t seem like a new trend to you, you’re right; however, more people are spending time indoors now than ever before, which may be a major contributor to depression and anxiety, among other ailments.

“Over thousands of years of human history, we have effectively become an indoor species,” says Meeri Kim of The Washington Post. “Particularly for those of us trapped in the cubicle life, often the only times we regularly step foot outside is for our daily work commute or to run errands.”

In fact, the average American spends 87 percent of their time indoors and 6 percent of their time inside a vehicle, according to a 2001 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study.

However, with a major boost in medical professionals encouraging their patients to spend time outside, along with an increasing outdoor industry, these stats look to drop. And the effects could be massive.

“A number of scientific studies emphasize that reveling in the great outdoors promotes human health. Spending time in natural environments has been linked to lower stress levels, improved working memory and feeling more alive, among other positive attributes,” says Kim.

These are just some of the positive health benefits of spending some time outside in the trees. Scientists are continuing to find more positive effects with further research from institutions around the world.

According to Yoshifumi Miyazaki, director of the Center for Environment Health and Field Sciences at Chiba University, spending time around the scent of the forest, the sound of streams, and the feeling of sunshine on the skin through forest leaves can produce a calming effect.

One of Miyazaki’s studies concluded that the average concentration of a stress hormone called salivary cortisol was 13.4 percent lower in people who simply looked at the forest for 20 minutes compared to those who looked at an urban setting.

“Humans had lived in nature for 5 million years. We were made to fit a natural environment. So we feel stress in an urban area,” Miyazaki said. “When we are exposed to nature, our bodies go back to how they should be.”

Li Qing, a senior assistant professor of forest medicine at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, has found that simply taking a walk in the forest can also strengthen the immune system.

Now, every time you hike, know that you’re doing yourself a favor by actually enhancing your overall health and well-being. Hiking in the forest can lower your stress levels, enhance your immune system, and recharge your brain. So get out there and explore the forest just like the doctor prescribed.

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Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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