Forest Bathing: How Nature and Being Outdoors Can Improve Your Health

Naturalist and environmental advocate John Muir spent a lot of time in the great outdoors, hiking and simply being in the open air of the American West in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks,” he said.

It seems Muir was ahead of his time, hinting at the emerging wellness field of forest bathing, which has recently garnered headlines and scientific scrutiny as a low-cost means of improving health.

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What Is Forest Bathing?

The term “forest bathing” refers to the stress-relieving practice known as “shinrin-yoku” in Japanese.

“‘Shinrin-yoku’ means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses,” explains Dr. Qing Li, president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine and a clinical professor of rehabilitation medicine at the Nippon Medical School Hospital in Tokyo. Li is the foremost authority on forest bathing and coined the term.

This kind of mindful engagement with the outdoors is not about having nature as scenery for other activities. If you’re walking and talking with a friend or riding a bike, for instance, you may be doing so in the natural world, but you’re not focused as much on nature itself.

“With forest bathing, the primary purpose of the trip is nature,” explains Gary Evans, director and co-founder of the Forest Bathing Institute, a London-based research, advocacy and training organization aiming to bring the practice of forest bathing to a wider audience. “We go into nature to appreciate it, and that’s a bit of a game changer for most people.”

Health Benefits of Forest Bathing

Li conducted the first study about forest bathing and its health impacts in 2005.

Since then, further research has shown that forest bathing is associated with a variety of health benefits, including:

— Improved immune system function

— Increased levels of anti-cancer proteins

— Reduced stress hormones

— Improved sleep quality and prevention of sleep disorders or insomnia

— Reduced blood pressure and heart rate

These changes in turn can provide protection against a range of diseases, such as:

— Hypertension and heart disease



— Obesity


Depression and anxiety

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Why It Works

How and why is forest bathing effective?

There’s some overlap in benefits and why forest bathing works, but Evans and Li highlight the following:

The body’s nervous system. A 2023 study suggests that forest bathing suppresses the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates the body’s fight-or-flight response, while enhancing the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the rest-and-digest response.

Stress. Forest bathing helps reduce stress and stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, according to a 2022 study that Li authored.

Mental health. Participants in one 2021 study on forest bathing experienced improvements in positive emotions, in addition to other benefits. Evans, who works with mental health charities, adds that the feedback he receives supports this kind of research. In testing forest bathing on vulnerable populations, such as those struggling with homelessness and substance use, Evans says participants found simply reconnecting with nature helped them find a better mental state.

Chemistry. According to one study, trees release phytoncides, which are chemicals that increase the body’s natural killer (NK) cells, white blood cells that help fight infections and disease, and anti-cancer proteins within cells.

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Getting Started With Forest Bathing

Getting started in forest bathing can be as simple as heading to a nearby woods or park and engaging with the environment.

“Everyone needs to find what’s manageable for them to get the process started. Use what you’ve got in terms of environment, and use what time you can manage,” Evans advises.

He also recommends looking in your local community for forest bathing groups or instructors who can help you get used to the practice.

How to practice forest bathing

It’s important to leave your phone at home or turn it off to avoid being distracted by any noises or notifications. The idea is to truly immerse yourself in your natural surroundings and soak in what you’re seeing and hearing — plants, flowers, birds and more.

Li urges you to use your five senses:

Sight. Observe the different colors and the aesthetics of the natural landscape.

Smell. Notice the fragrance from plants and trees.

Hearing. Listen to the sounds of nature — leaves rustling in the breeze, birds singing or water moving.

Touch. Reach out and touch the trees to help put your whole body in the forest and natural atmosphere. Research shows that touch stimulates the relaxation response and releases oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone.”

Taste. Taste the fresh air in forests and nature, and eat and drink natural foods.

More from U.S. News

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Stress vs. Anxiety: Understanding the Key Differences

Forest Bathing: How Nature and Being Outdoors Can Improve Your Health originally appeared on

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