On the way home from a snorkelling trip to the beach earlier this week we stopped at Centennial Park in Sydney and were wowed by the magnificent trees. It inspired me to write this blog about forest bathing to inspire you to think about the power of nature as a simple way to give you joy and contribute to a wonderful sense of calm and peace. I was quite giddy with these feelings while there and still feel waves of awe days later when thinking about it and looking at these pictures of the Paperbark Grove and the massive Morton Bay fig trees.
We know being in nature has a psychological impact making us feel calm and relaxed, happy and joyful, and even playful. But what exactly is forest bathing and are there really physiological impacts i.e. does forest bathing simply help you feel good or does it actually lower your cortisol levels or blood pressure?
The term Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing) was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982. It can be defined as making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest: a process intended to improve an individual’s state of mental and physical relaxation
The above study set out to measure and clarify the physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing with 12 young male university students who had no history of physical or psychiatric disorders:
12 subjects walked in and viewed a forest or city area. On the first day, six subjects were sent to a forest area, and the others to a city area. On the second day, each group was sent to the other area as a cross-check.
The participants sat and viewed the landscape for 12-16 minutes and then walked in the landscape for 14-18 minutes (in one of the 24 forests and then in one of the 24 city areas on the second day).
The subjects had the following markers measured before breakfast and both before and after the walking and viewing periods:
- salivary cortisol
- blood pressure
- pulse rate and
- heart rate variability
After this surprisingly short period of viewing and walking in the forests the following results were found:
forest bathing promotes lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity
So, what we have, is more activity of the parasympathetic system i.e. more of the calming “rest and digest” activity and less activity of the sympathetic system i.e. what we term as “fight or flight” or stress activity.
The authors suggest that forest bathing “may be used as a strategy for preventive medicine” and I wholeheartedly agree.
Given that GABA can lower high pressure and calm down the “fight or flight” sympathetic system (see this animal study) I won’t be surprised when we see research showing us that forest bathing boosts GABA levels just in a similar way that yoga boosts GABA.
If you don’t have everyday access to parks, trees or forests be sure to go out of your way to make detours down nearby tree-lined streets to get some of these wonderful health benefits.
And because we know that simply looking at images of greenery and nature can have a calming and stress-reducing effect, here is a bigger version of the photo I took of the Paperbark Grove for you to enjoy looking at!
We were so excited to “discover” this gem and got home and googled it only to find out it’s a popular avenue for wedding parties! I’m sure you can see why!
Right next to the Paperbark Grove are three giant Moreton Bay fig trees. These trees are estimated to be older that the park, which was opened in 1888.
If you’re local to Sydney or come for a visit one day, I highly recommend a trip to Centennial Park to see these magnificent trees and do your own Australian version of forest bathing. You may just see me there!
Until then, I encourage you to get outside into forests, get “hugged” by trees, hug trees and gaze up and enjoy every calming and joyous moment. It can help to lower your cortisol levels so you can be free of anxiety and it may even help to prevent anxiety!
Please do share your favorite forest bathing locations and how they make you feel.