Forest Therapy: A Holistic Practice for Health and Wellness

 

When it comes to health and wellness, it is no surprise that many are trying to find their roots back in nature. Whether through all-natural supplements or holistic therapies, many are tired of going through the healthcare system without any success.

While it’s not a new practice, forest therapy has recently shown promise in helping people through their stress and anxieties. Especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when social gatherings weren’t as prominent.

The act of walking through the forest brings more than just exercise. It allows you to breathe in the fresh air, listen to the birds chirping peacefully above you, and allow yourself to become engulfed in a natural environment.

Throughout this article, we will take a deeper look at forest therapy and how it may help you.

What is Forest Therapy?

Simply put, forest therapy is when you embark on guided outdoor healing practice. The exercise found its roots in Japan through the practice of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing).

This practice began when many Japanese leaders noticed a sharp increase in stress-related illnesses. Many were attributed to people spending more hours with technology or in other industrial environments.

Forest therapy is more than just a walk through the woods. It requires a trained guide to take you through all the different experiences of nature and allow you to immerse in them through all your senses. This allows you to be completely present in the moment and develop a relationship with the natural world.

Throughout forest therapy’s lifespan, several certified trails have appeared in numerous countries, with more people getting involved and learning how to properly guide these groups. Furthermore, there’s been a lot of research looking into how nature can help to reduce stress, improve attention, help your immune system, and better your mood.

How Can Forest Therapy Improve Mental Well-Being?

In order to understand how forest therapy can improve your mental well-being, we must first know how stress works within the body.

When we experience stress, we also experience an increase in the hormone cortisol. Through long-term stress and chronic elevations of cortisol, we may also experience the following health conditions:

  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Memory and concentration impairment
  • Sleep problems
  • Stroke

With forest therapy, the goal is to decrease cortisol levels in the body. And research has found that simply taking a walk in the forest (in comparison to a walk in a laboratory environment) does just that.

While there is debate about why this happens, there’s no denying the vital role trees have in our health.

Trees Naturally Reduce Risk from Health Conditions

When we’re surrounded by trees, we’re inhaling an essential oil known as phytoncide. This oil has a number of benefits, from antimicrobial properties to improving our immune system.

In fact, Japanese researchers found that those who spent three days (and two nights) in a forest also had an increase in natural killer cells. These are responsible for fighting off viruses and cancer and play an essential role in our survival.

Of course, not everyone has the time to take a weekend-long camping trip. Still, other research has confirmed that just spending 120 minutes a week in nature helped to improve a person’s well-being and health.

Furthermore, the above-mentioned tree oils have been found to have other positive effects on our health, including:

  • Better quality of sleep
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Depression relief
  • Lower inflammation
  • Protection against infections
  • Reduced anxiety

Even when confined to a hospital bed, one study revealed that people recovered quicker from gallbladder surgery when they had a window with a natural view (in comparison to those who had a brick wall).

How to Find a Forest Therapy Guide

As you can see, forest therapy has a lot of benefits for our mental and physical health. And as numerous research shows, the two are interconnected. If we take care of our physical health, we’re also taking care of our mental health (and vice versa).

If you’re interested in participating in forest therapy, we highly recommend seeing what the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy has to offer. The organization trains and certifies forest therapy guides worldwide and partners with several natural locations.

Even if you don’t have the time to sign up for a forest therapy guide, we recommend incorporating nature walks into your lifestyle to garner these benefits.