Forest Bathing May Be the Secret to Improving Your Mental and Physical Health

The practice of taking note of nature’s sensory experiences has become a prescribed treatment for stress-related conditions in Japan.

Forest bath
Photo: PamelaJoeMcFarlane / Getty Images

Taking a walk benefits your wellbeing in many ways, including improving your cardiovascular health and helping you maintain your idea weight. The location you choose to walk in can also influence how much you gain from your walks. In addition to getting your steps in, strolling through the forest—a practice called forest bathing—provides a sensory experience that benefits both your physical and your mental health. In fact, the benefits of forest bathing have been confirmed in about 20 different studies, and the practice has become a prescribed treatment for stress-related conditions in Japan, CNN reports.

But, what is it exactly? When you take a walk through nature, you probably find it impossible to ignore the sounds and smells around you. The birds chirping, a stream flowing nearby, animals running through branches and fallen leaves, the scent of moss and damp earth. Perhaps you touch the bark of a tree or take a moment to feel the breeze (or warmth of the sunshine) against your face. Well, embracing these sensations is what's known as taking a forest bath.

While it's recommended by some health experts to spend about two hours in nature a week, Kirsten McEwan, an associate professor and research psychologist at the University of Derby in the United Kingdom, says you can work your way up to that number. "Just having those micro moments of life in nature, whether it is just 5 or 10 minutes a day building up to that 120 minutes, it all has massive benefit," she tells CNN.

If you're finding it hard to hit that weekly allotment of time in nature, you can still reap the benefits of forest bathing without even stepping foot into one. According to McEwan, there are plenty of opportunities to partake in this type of mindfulness. When you're on your morning commute, try leaving earlier and taking a longer route that perhaps provides more to look at. Or take a walk on your lunch break to get some fresh air and time outdoors.

Is getting outside not an option? No worries. You can still participate in a virtual forest bath by watching videos online that will take you on a tour of the natural world, with narration to guide you through the experience. Whether you're engaging virtually or spending time outside, McEwen tells CNN that the most important thing is to find something that works for you. "To get the maximum benefits of spending time in nature, you have to be comfortable," she says."

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