What is on your mind when you hear about ‘forest-bathing’? No, it is not literally taking a bath by pouring water through your body inside the forest. Forest-bathing is an activity by visiting forest or an area dominated by trees.
It is neither an exercise nor a sporty activity, it is just simply connecting our five senses with nature, breathing its fresh air, walk through the woods for relaxation purpose. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and nature.
Forest-bathing itself has been practiced over decades ago in Japan. Known as shinrin-yoku. Shin means forest, and yoku means bathing. According to Japanese health experts, forest bathing has the ability of healing for sure, such as relieving stress and increasing the physical wellness.
There are several significant benefits of forest bathing for both physical and mental. From relieving stress and promoting the relax feeling, to fighting against the cancer cells. In fact, breathing in forests’ fresh air works more than just freshens our respiratory system.
While it is good for our physical health too, here in this article, we will show you the benefits of forest bathing to our mental health.
Phytoncide And Forest Bathing
Just like mentioned above, forest bathing has been practiced for centuries by Japanese. Little known about the habit that it actually gives real health benefits to our body. Researchers found out that, the trees have phytoncides, some kind of essential oil spread from the wood through the air.
Phytoncide is a substance emitted by plants & trees. Every kind of plant has it, including fruit and vegetables we consume every day. The word “phyton” means “plant” in Latin, and “cide” means to exterminate.
Yes, actually phytoncides are produced by plants & trees to repel harmful insects and germs. However, we are not harmful insect nor germs. Instead of being toxic substance for us, phytoncides contains a lot of beneficial substance for human.
It is similar to the pungent aroma and taste of pepper which is meant to repel pests away, but is something tasty for us. For us, phytoncide contains some kind of therapeutic effects. Combined with other aspects of forest, it can be a good therapy for our minds.
Optimizing Cortisol Level
Cortisol is a hormone that is important throughout the body to maintain blood pressure, blood sugar, metabolism, and respond to infections and stress. Besides helping you to respond stress, it also plays an important role in other function.
Optimized amount of cortisol will help us to regulate our blood pressure, increase our blood sugar (glucose), and manage the use of carbohydrates, fat and proteins in our systems. A study found that forest-bathing is capable of optimizing the cortisol level in our body.
Naturally, cortisol level increases when we are in a state of stress or going in for sport. In a journal published by International Journal of Biometeorology, researcher found an increase of cortisol production in people who visit forest and breathe its air for a couple of time.
A comparation between before and after those people visit the forest showed that the level was significantly higher after the they visit the forest. These researchers came to a conclusion that forest-bathing can significantly influence cortisol levels on a short term in such a way that can reduce stress.
Simply talking, visiting forest and breathing its fresh air optimizes the cortisol levels in our body. This is the reason why we feel good shortly after we visit forests or any greenery like parks. Well, stressed out? Find some greenery then.
Most of our stress is linked to insufficient sleep. Well, you might want to connect yourself to the nature if you have sleeping problem then, because researchers found that forest bathing or being in the forest affects our circadian rhythm a lot.
The circadian rhythm is a biological process that naturally regulates the sleep-wake cycle. A study conducted by researchers of University of Colorado Boulder in 2013 found that camping in nature affects our circadian rhythm a lot.
The result said that participants who had been made camp for a week experienced optimal sleep-wake cycle. Furthermore, researchers also found that camping in nature for a week and staying away from artificial light can fix our sleep disorders.
It might be linked to our melatonin levels, a hormone that plays a role in sleep-wake cycle. Researchers suggested that our body produces the hormone more optimally by 2 hours earlier when we are camping compared to when we sleep under artificial light.
This is also the reason why when we are camping in the nature, we tend to sleep and wake up earlier. Don’t you realize that we can easily witness the beautiful sunrise while we are camping compared to when we are in town?
Forest Bathing Strengthens the Immune System
Older people or those who are already sick are more prone to stress. This is the reason why we need to guard our body physically to be perfect mentally. Mens sana in corpore sano, right? This is why we need a perfect immune system in our body.
The immune system is like an army that protects our body against the intervention of ‘evil’ intruder such as bacteria, germs, parasites or viruses. When functioning properly, the immune system identifies and attacks those potentially damaging the body.
However, most air we are breathing nowadays, especially in big cities, has been contaminated with pollution produced by modern human machinery. It causes varieties of health diseases including weakened human immune system.
A study held by Environ Health Prev Med indicates that forest bathing significantly strengthens the human immune function. By simply visiting forest and staying away from the urban area for a while, the Natural Killer (NK) cells and the levels of intracellular anti-cancer proteins is increased.
Phytoncides released from trees and the decreased production of stress hormones is linked to the increased NK activity. It shows how the benefits of forest bathing to our mental health is layered and multiple. It reduces our stress level in overall, and helps strengthen our immune systems which will guard our minds from stress later.