July 2022

Forest Bathing - a simple well-being practice that can make you happier and healthier

5 min read

We have heard how being in nature can make us feel better. But why is that and how can we ensure that we reap the benefits out of every trip to the forest? Keep reading to learn the secrets behind forest medicine and how a day spent in nature can make you feel happier and healthier. 

How immersing ourselves in the forest atmosphere brings our nervous system into balance

Forest Bathing is the practice of immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest with all your senses for a refreshing and grounding feeling.  In Japan, this practice is called Shinrin-yoku. Shinrin means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.”  The sounds of the forest, the scent of the trees or the feeling of the cool breeze against our skin can give us a sense of comfort. They ease our tension and worries and help us to relax. Simply being in nature can boost our mood, energy levels and focus, without the physical activity component. 

Scientists have observed lower stress hormones in the short-term as well as positive changes in immune function and mood in people who regularly practised Forest Bathing. Lowering the stress hormones allows our bodies to recover from a stressful situation and relax. This allows our bodies to rest and recharge for the next challenge, such as a workout or important deadline. When stressed or tensed, our bodies prioritise blood flow to the legs, arms, heart, lungs, eyes and brain – all the parts that can work together to keep us afloat when facing a challenging situation – while blood flow to the digestive system and reproductive organs is deprioritised. Stepping into relaxation mode can support optimal digestive and reproductive function by promoting blood and nutrient flow back to these organs and tissues. 

How the forest microbiome makes us happier

When we walk in the forest, we are exposed to a common and harmless bacteria in the soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, which helps us feel happier. The benefits of M. vaccae were discovered by an oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, Dr Mary O'Brien. Dr O'Brien was conducting an experiment on M. vaccae. Her experiment found that exposure to this bacteria "significantly improved patient quality of life”. The patients reported feeling more positive, having higher energy levels and better cognitive functioning. 

A few years later, these results were supported by scientists at Bristol University. Looking into the underlying mechanisms, they found that M. vaccae stimulates neurons associated with immune system functioning and emotions. Therefore, walking on soil in the park or digging in our garden exposes us to this helpful bacteria which can stimulate a part of our brain in such a way that it can boost our immunity and help us feel happier. 

How the forest’s natural aromatherapy makes us healthier

Trees release natural essential oils, also known as phytoncides. These oils protect trees from parasitic bacteria, insects and fungi. The concentration of phytoncides is higher in evergreen forests and also depends on the temperature. The warmer it is, the more phytoncides there are in the air. Therefore, the summertime is the perfect time to boost your immune system by planning a hike to a forest with at least a few evergreen trees. Breathing in not only the fresh forest air, but also the powerful natural essential oils the trees release in the air can provide a powerful boost to our immune system. 

Dr. Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, showed that a two-hour Forest Bath can increase natural killer cell activity by up to 10%. Natural killer cells are a type of white blood cell that help fight cancer and viral infections. This natural boost in immunity was shown to last for up to 30 days. Why not plan a monthly trip to the nearest forest for a beautiful picnic that relaxes your nervous system and boosts your immune system?

How to practice forest bathing on a busy schedule

Forest Bathing does not require you to take the day off or move to the forest. You have likely done some form of Forest Bathing in your life already. You can include this practice in your daily or weekly routine to support your well-being, mood and immunity during your fertility journey and beyond. Think of a park you can easily go to most days and find yourself surrounded by trees. Once you arrive there, put aside your phone, worries, and any other distractions and come into the present moment. Notice the sounds of nature around you, breathe in the trees’ natural aromatherapy, feel the breeze of fresh, clean air on your skin. 

Bring elements of the outdoor nature into your home or office to enjoy their benefits even on days you are not able to go to the park or forest. This can look like an indoor plant or tree, diffusing essential oils of evergreen trees or maybe playing 8-hour-long YouTube forest soundscapes in the background. This can help you feel more energised and refreshed during your day. A fertility well-being routine consists of small powerful actions. At Harper, we understand the importance of well-being during your fertility journey and we are here to support you — backed by science.

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