Fall is a lovely time of year for taking long drives in the country to enjoy the beautiful scenery. But it is also a great time to practice “forest bathing.”
What is forest bathing?
Essentially, forest bathing is the practice of walking mindfully through a forest, appreciating your surroundings and enjoying nature, and using all your 5 senses. So, walking barefoot is considered a good way to do it. Personally, I would stay away from the barefoot idea. Too much mud, sticks, sharp rocks, and litter, etc. Sturdy runners or hiking shoes are best. You can hug a tree or pick up a rock or a stick if you really want to use all 5 senses.
The practice originated in Japan in the 1980s and is called shinrin-yoku. As the Japanese population became more and more urbanized it was a movement created by the Japanese government to help its citizens stay connected to and value their forests.
The practice took off and now they have forest bathing guides to help you learn how to do it to take full advantage of your surroundings.
What are the benefits of forest bathing?
There are, in fact, actual physical and mental benefits from forest bathing. According to studies done by Qing Li, a Japanese scientist who researches the effects of forest bathing, forest bathing helps while walking anywhere outdoors helps lower blood pressure, anxiety, depression and anger – Forest bathing can accomplish all these as well as reduce fatigue and improve alertness. On top of that, Dr. Li did a study that demonstrated that people who walk through forests sleep better and longer.
There are scientific reasons for why you feel calmer and have lower blood pressure after a walk through the forest.
All those trees are giving off their by-product which is oxygen, so the concentration of oxygen is higher in forests than it is in urban areas.
Trees also release phytoncides which are chemicals that kill fungus and mold. The air is cleaner and the oxygen purer amongst the trees.
Evergreens give off more pytoncides than deciduous trees, so walking in an evergreen forest may have even greater effects than mixed forests.
For women in menopause, how can forest bathing help?
Since women in menopause can suffer from higher blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, poor sleep, anxiety, a racing mind, brain fog, (to name a few!), forest bathing may help ease some of those symptoms.
A study was recently done in Korea where several groups of menopausal and post-menopausal women who had terrible insomnia did a specific forest bathing program to see if it improved their sleep.
For 6 days, the women practiced gentle exercises in a forest, for thirty minutes in the morning and another 1-2 hours in the afternoon.
At the end of the six days, their sleep had improved an average of 20 minutes per night and their blood pressure had lowered.
Were the results due to forest bathing, or just getting away from it all? It’s really hard to say.
I’m sure if someone offered me a chance to go and do nothing but exercise in the woods twice a day and hang out with my girlfriends the rest of the time chatting and having a good time for 6 days, my blood pressure would lower and my sleep would improve too! (I think it’s also known as a vacation!). 😊
How to forest bathe
According to the articles we’ve referenced, it is not about speed but rather about enjoying and taking in your surroundings. There are as many psychological and physiological benefits from a leisurely walk through the woods as there are from a brisk jog (although for different reasons). So, take your time, use your five senses, enjoy the quiet, breathe deeply. Basically, remember to stop and smell the roses.
Where to go
Any forest or park with a tree stand will give you the benefits of forest bathing, however, if you can find a local provincial or national park and meander through their woods, the benefits will be even greater.
Does it really work?
Like many people, in the last year and a half (thanks, CoVid!!) we have been out hiking far more than we had in the past. What I’ve noticed is that hiking amongst the trees it is so peaceful that there is a certain amount of joy that bubbles up inside me. I feel a contentment and a calmness that I don’t feel at home (looking at all the stuff I need to do). All the work and family demands drift away if only for the time we’re hiking.
I have never taken my blood pressure before and after the hikes we do, but if I did, I’m sure it would be lower (although, of course, your blood pressure is supposed to be lower after exercising, so it might not prove anything!).
The bottom line:
Forest bathing is, in my opinion, a fancy way of saying go for a stroll in the woods and enjoy your surroundings.
Whether or not the increased oxygen concentration is enough to truly make a difference to your sleep, has me a little skeptical.
What I know for sure is that a walk in the woods, feeling connected to nature, admiring the spectacular views, breathing in the fresh, pine-scented air, listening to the sounds of the woods – which is sometimes nothing but silence – is something that makes me truly happy and content.
If the activity gets you out and moving and seeing new things and exploring areas you’ve never seen before, that to me makes it all worthwhile.
What’s your opinion?