Forest bathing, or Shirin-yoku in Japanese, is defined as a short, leisurely visit to a forest and is regarded as being similar to natural aromatherapy.
A forest bathing trip involves visiting a forest for relaxation and recreation while breathing in volatile substances, called phytoncides (wood essential oils), which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees. Incorporating forest bathing trips into a good lifestyle was first proposed in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan It has now become a recognized relaxation and/or stress management activity in Japan.
I first heard the term from one of my Tuesday bike group ladies. I recognized our weekly rides not only gave us the usual exercise benefits but the other intangibles of forest bathing-the airborn compounds research has now validated as having real effects on health and well being, including a valuable immune system component that helps fight cancer.
The new science of forest medicine(2007) has several published findings. In one study the Profile of Mood States (POMS) test was used to show that forest bathing trips significantly increased the score of vigour in subjects, and decreased the scores for anxiety, depression and anger – leading to the recommendation that habitual forest bathing may help to decrease the risk of psychosocial stress-related diseases.
Other studies on immune function looked into whether forest bathing increases the activity of people’s natural killer (NK) cells, a component of the immune system that fights cancer. In two studies, small groups of men and women respectively were assessed before and after a two-night/three-day forest bathing trip. During the trips the subjects went on three forest walks and stayed in a hotel in the forest. Blood tests were taken before and after the trip, revealing a significant boost in NK activity in the subjects in both groups. The increase was observed as long as 30 days after the trip. Follow-up studies showed a significant increase in NK activity was also achieved after a day-trip to a forest, with the increase observed for seven days after the trip.
Qing Li ,a senior assistant professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, attributes the increase in NK activity partly to breathing in air containing phytoncides, emitted from trees to protect them from rotting and insects.
Japanese forest species that had an effect on NK activity included cedar, beech, cypress and oak however any patch of decent forest (generally defined as land with a tree canopy cover of more than 10 per cent and area of more than .05 hectares) anywhere in the world would have a beneficial forest bathing effect. Forests on the Sunshine Coast would definitely qualify.
Li says while forest bathing it’s not important to do heavy physical exercise (in my case mountain biking) but rather one should enjoy the forest through the senses: the murmuring of a stream, bird’s singing, green colour, fragrance of the forest, If you eat some foods from the forest and touch the trees (ie do an end over the handlebars) so much the better. In fact geophagy-dining on dirt or clay-soothes the stomach and may also eliminate bad bacteria, viruses, fungi and toxins from the gut. Animals as well as people in tribal and rural societies (particularly pregnant women and young children) have been doing it since the dawn of time
Dr Li’s prescription for forest bathing:
- Make a plan based on your daily physical activity and do not get tired during the forest bathing.
- If you take whole day forest bathing, it is better to stay in forest for about 4 hours and walk about 5 kilometres. If you take a half day forest bathing, it is better to stay in forest for about 2 hours and walk about 2.5 kilometres.
- If you feel tired, you can take a rest anywhere and anytime you like.
- If you feel thirsty, you can drink water/tea anywhere and anytime you like.
- Please find a place in the forest you like. Then, you can sit for a while and read or enjoy the beautiful scenery.
- If it is possible, it is better to take a hot spring bath (a spa) after the forest bathing.
- You can select the forest bathing course based on your purpose.
- If you want to boost your immunity (natural killer activity), a three-day/two-night forest bathing trip would be recommended.
- If you just want to relax for reducing your stress, a day trip to a forest park near to your home would be recommended.
- Forest bathing is just a preventive measure for diseases; therefore, if you come down with an illness, see a doctor –not a forest.
Most of Dr. Li’s tips can be easily incorporated into a stay at the Pointhouse .with Sargeant Bay provincial park almost next door and mature second growth forest enveloping the property. Add the benefits of salt air and you have a built-in therapeutic environmental milleu.