Poets have written about forests and trees for centuries. From Joyce Kilmer’s, “I think that I shall never see, A poem lovely as a tree,” to Henry David Thoreau’s, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Forests are beautiful, mysterious, fascinating and absolutely vital to our existence on Earth! Life may have crawled from the ocean, but it lived and thrived in the forest! Maybe that’s why humans are so drawn to them…because we know how intrinsically tied we are to them.
But, only recently have scientists discovered how good forests are for our health! We now know that taking a walk in the woods can lower blood pressure, improve brain function, decrease feelings of depression, decrease stress and anxiety; and we all know the importance of moving more, and going for a walk is a great way to do that! Health experts everywhere are now advocating walking in the woods as one of the best things anyone could do for their health.
Instead of just being called “walking in the woods,” the practice has become known as “forest bathing.” And, like some of our other favorite things like sushi and yoga, it originated in Asia. The Japanese call it ‘shinrin-yoku,’ which translates as ‘taking in the forest atmosphere.’
The Japanese government has even endorsed the practice and the country has created 55 “forest therapy trails” with more popping up by the week. People who walk these trails have their blood pressure checked both before and after walking and, of course, always have lower blood pressure after walking.
And, now the United States is catching on. Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania and Arizona are just a few of the states that have forest bathing centers or spas. These spas don’t just tell you to go take a hike in the forest. They have forest bathing guides who encourage walkers to totally immerse themselves in the experience by touching, smelling and listening to the forest surrounding them. Many also encourage meditation, yoga and massage sessions to complete their experience.
According to one study , trees save an estimated $6.8 billion dollars in American health costs per year! This is mostly due to trees’ ability to clean pollution from our air and water, decrease stress and anxiety, and increase post-operative healing times.
Studies have also shown that planting trees in the inner city decreases violence and spending just two nights in the woods increases the number of white blood cells (the cells that attack tumors and infections in our bodies) by 50 percent! Even if you can’t go camping for the weekend, just getting out for a walk in the woods for at least 2 hours will provide you the health benefits of shinrin-yoku.