What if you could improve your health and sense of well-being, increase your creativity and find deep relaxation… all by spending time amid trees? There’s no what-if about it! There’s now scientific evidence to show that all these benefits are possible simply by spending time in a wooded area. Some call it ecotherapy. The Japanese have a delightful term for it: forest bathing.

The Japanese term gives us a window into what this is all about. It’s not hiking. It’s not outdoor yoga or any other sort of discipline. You can walk, but preferably without much (or any) purpose. Then again, you don’t have to walk at all, you can just sit. While doing your ecotherapy or forest bathing far from the reach of civilization, what is lovely is that the positive effects are also achievable in your neighbourhood park.

Here are just a few of the positive effects, documented by research:

  •  Japanese field experiments using Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) revealed reductions in stress hormones, blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart-rate variability. The research was sponsored by the Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences at Chiba University.
  •  A small study published in Public Health in 2007 showed significant decreases in hostility and depression scores after a “forest day,” and people in the study who were experiencing the highest levels of stress also reported the greatest reductions in stress afterwards.
  •  A 2009 article in the Journal of Attention Disorders found better concentration in ADHD children exposed to natural environments.
  •  Most intriguing of all, an eight-year study sponsored by Nippon Medical School in Tokyo found that the body’s natural killer (NK) cells, which attack viruses and tumours, increase in number and activity for up to a month after study subjects spent time in the woods.

If you’re wondering what it is about trees that provides us so many benefits for health and well-being, and especially immune function, it may be the phytoncides we breathe when we’re under a canopy of trees. These arboreal essential oils, which make the air seem so fresh and rejuvenating, don’t just make us feel well, they help the body work well!