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Forest Therapy: Prescribing a Walk in the Woods

It is generally accepted that being outdoors is good for us, from increased relaxation to exercise. However, forest therapy (also called forest bathing) specifically connects a walk in the woods with physiological markers of increased health. Many people have framed the study of forest therapy as providing scientific clarity on a common sense principle, on how nature affects the brain and the body.

Forest Therapy Benefits

Origins of Forest Therapy

Forest therapy originated in Japan. While it has been studied there for decades, it has only become a hot topic in North America more recently. I would speculate that this correlates to increased discussion of how lack of nature affects children’s health.

Nature Deficit Disorder, for example, addresses the mental and physical health concern surrounding children’s disconnect with nature. Richard Louv’s book “Last Child In The Woods” is a great resource to start exploring this. Yet I would argue that this is equally, if not more relevant, for older generations. Their childhoods inherently included a greater connection with nature, whether looking at the less industrialized landscape (less buildings, more green space), or differences in childhood play (being outside was an inherent part of free play).

So for many older adults, their lives are lacking in nature simply by contrast to their youth. Further, when talking about health benefits (such as increased functioning of immune systems) it can certainly be argued that the relevancy increases with age.

What is Forest Therapy?

So, what is forest therapy anyways? The essential concept is simple and probably sounds like common sense. Spend more time using your 5 senses to interact with nature and physical and mental health benefits ensue:

But the science behind this simple proclamation is a bit more complicated (and yes, there is science to support it).

For example, several studies focus on phytoncides, an aromatic chemical that evergreen trees emit. They are cited to influence our immune system by increasing the activity of our “natural killer” cells, which fight viruses and disease, including cancer. However, these research findings are often criticized because of being funded by Japan’s Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute.

In Conclusion

We can only benefit from adding in some peaceful time amongst nature. However, to help navigate how (and whether) being amongst trees can improve our health, I have provided a variety of links below to learn a bit more about the research and practice of forest therapy.

Forest Therapy (a.k.a. Forest Bathing) 101

Forest Therapy: An overview article describing benefits such as lower blood sugar, diminished pain and better immunity.

Video on the Development of Forest Therapy: Alan C. Logan (co-author of the recent book “Your Brain on Nature”) visits the Nippon Medical School in Japan to explore forest therapy.

Is Forest Therapy for Real?: A leader in natural health and wellness, Dr. Andrew Weil, answers this question.

Why is Walking In The Woods So Good For You?: A more critical analysis from the Globe and Mail.

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Do you believe in the benefits of forest therapy? Have you experienced these benefits? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
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