Until recently, I had never heard of the term "forest bathing" and I had no idea what it referred to. Yet, being lucky enough to live in the countryside...it seems I've been doing it for most of my life. So what is it?
The term "forest bathing" is a translation of the Japanese term "shinrin-yoku"; it's a practise that was developed in Japan in the 1980s. The cornerstone of this idea, is that spending time relaxing and walking leisurely under the canopy of the trees, whilst breathing in phytoncides (organic compounds produced by plants and trees - sometimes referred to as "the aroma of the forest") can have a restorative and beneficial effect on our health in many ways. Scientific studies have proven that the practise can:
- Lower blood pressure
- Boost the immune system
- Improve mood
- Aid concentration, and help with the effects of ADHD
- Speed up recovery times after surgery or illness
- Improve energy levels
- Improve sleep patterns
- Reduce stress*
Along with the scientific explanation of phyotoncides, it's likely that our health benefits from other calming features of the forest. The sounds of rivers and waterfalls; the scenic vistas of lakes, trees and the forest itself; and the tranquility and peace of being away from it all.
Walking in nature is something that my family, friends and I have enjoyed since childhood. Finding out that science backs the intuitive feeling of how spending time in nature is good for body and mind, makes me enjoy it that little bit more.
One of our favourite forest walks is Lanthwaite Wood in the Lake District. There are lovely forest paths that follow the River Cocker to Crummock Water. The trails are loved by my children, who enjoy playing hide-and-seek amongst the trees and swinging on the rope swing over the river. When you get to the end of the trail, you are rewarded with a beautiful view of Crummock Water and the Lake District mountains. It never fails to lift the mood of adults and children alike.
So how can you enjoy the benefits of "forest bathing"? It is estimated that in the UK more than half of us are fortunate enough to have woodland within two and a half miles of our home. If you're new to forest walks, then local rambling/walking groups or the National Trust can be a great place to start. The National Trust, in particular, have some great walks online. If you're a city dweller, the same benefits of "forest bathing" can be achieved by spending time in local parks. Check out some resources online to find what is available near you. If I'm travelling to a new city, the first place I'll often check out is the Tourist Information or the City Council website. There's often some great information available.
All in all, "forest bathing" - wherever you do it - can be a joyful escape from the fast-paced world of technology and social media. A reminder of the beauty and calmness that surrounds us when we take time out to enjoy it.