Giving trees: The benefits of forest bathing

Looking for a way to switch off when you’re not at work? The answer could lie in a new craze called forest bathing.

Forest bathing describes the practice of being in the presence of trees. Taking a short, leisurely visit to a forest can have physical and psychological health benefits — it’s backed by science.

The Japanese practice of forest bathing, Shinrin-yoku, is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, increase parasympathetic nerve activity, lower sympathetic nerve activity and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.

The parasympathetic nervous system controls the body’s rest-and-digest system, which helps produce a state of equilibrium in the body while the sympathetic nervous system governs fight-or-flight responses. In a 2010 study, subjects were more rested and less inclined to be stressed after a forest bath.

The idea is to just be with trees. No hiking, no counting steps on a Fitbit. You can sit or meander, but the point is to relax rather than accomplish anything.

City dwellers can benefit from the effects of trees with just a visit to the park. Brief exposure to greenery in urban environments can relieve stress. In other words, being in nature can physiologically help us be less amped.

So, to alleviate stress, prescribe yourself a dose of nature.