Forest Bathing 101: What Is It And Why Should You Care?

Boost your mental and physical wellbeing

Forest bathing, also called forest therapy or shinrin-yoku, is a health trend that has gained popularity in recent years. It’s a great way to reconnect with nature and get some time outdoors, while also boosting your mental and physical wellbeing. 

But what exactly is forest bathing? How does it help improve your health? And how do you do it? 

Here are the answers to those questions and more …

What Is Forest Bathing? 

Forest bathing is a style of mental and physical therapy that started in Japan. The idea is to spend time in a natural setting while you take in the space with all your senses. 

Smell … the fresh air, damp earth and flowers.

Listen … to rustling leaves, babbling brooks and bird songs. 

Feel … the warmth of the sun, the coolness of a stream and the texture of different tree barks.  

Taste … the fresh air as you breathe deeply (or, if well versed in foraging, taste the plants and flowers).

See … everything. See the sun sprinkle through the leaves, animals scurrying and all the different colours. Focus on places you wouldn’t usually focus on, like the activity on the forest floor.

You don’t need to strip down to forest bathe. Instead, you’re “bathing” yourself in the forest’s atmosphere. And in doing so, you’ll help rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit. 

6 Reasons Why Forest Bathing Is Good For Your Health

While the term forest bathing didn’t emerge until the 1980s, it isn’t a new concept. For centuries, many cultures have known the importance of nature in human health and healing. 

Here are some of the main reasons people try forest bathing in modern times. 

1. Helps You Unplug From Technology

We spend way more time staring at phones, TVs and computers than we used to. On average, Canadians self-report spending more than 10 hours a day looking at screens. 

This is especially problematic with the growing list of health issues associated with too much screen time and sedentary activities:

  • Obesity
  • Sleep problems 
  • Neck and back pain 
  • Vision problems 

The problems aren’t just physical either. Technology can have a huge impact on mental health. Depression, anxiety and reduced attention spans are all linked to increased screen time. Other studies show how social media can make us feel worse about ourselves. Too much time doing the same thing on a screen can even rewire your brain’s circuitry or become an addiction. 

Forest bathing helps us unplug and slow down. It reminds us to live in the moment and really take in our surroundings. 

2. Gets You Outside 

If the last stat didn’t surprise you, this one might …

Did you know that Canadians spend approximately 90% of their time indoors? At least according to Health Canada

Seems a shame with all the stunning natural spaces Canada, and even Barrie, has to offer. 

If you’re currently calculating how much time you spent outside this week and doubt this stat, that’s good news. It means you’re already doing better than most Canadians. If this number isn’t a shock then forest bathing may be a perfect way to work on increasing your outdoor time. 

Not convinced simply getting outside is a good enough reason to try forest bathing? Here’s why forest bathing (and getting outside in general) is really important …

3. Boosts Your Immune System 

Your immune system protects you from outside invaders. This includes bacteria, viruses and toxins that can make you ill and give you infections. 

Spending time outside can help boost your immune system. That’s because plants release phytoncides, which help fight disease. When you breathe them in, they enhance your body’s defenses against tumors and infection. Fresh air also increases oxygen intake, which helps protective cells function properly. 

The sun also helps boost your immune system. That’s because it helps your body make Vitamin D and efficiently use calcium and phosphorus. 

4. Helps You Destress 

When you see something as a threat or feel stressed, your body releases cortisol. Known as the stress hormone, cortisol activates your fight-or-flight response. It enhances your brain’s use of glucose and your body’s ability to repair tissue. It also suppresses functions that could be harmful or are non-essential while in fight-or-flight. 

If you’re up against an aggressor, cortisol is critical. It keeps you on high alert and focuses your energy on functions you need to stay safe. Once the threat has passed, your cortisol levels even out. 

But cortisol is also released when you’re stressed about everyday demands. This can be anything from paying bills to caring for sick loved ones. If you have constant stressors in your life, your fight-or-flight response won’t turn off. That can cause too much cortisol to be released into your system. 

Studies show that forest bathing can have a significant effect on cortisol levels. Other studies have shown a nature walk is more effective than an urban walk. Nature walks helped reduce anxiety, brooding and negative emotions. They also reduced rumination. 

5. Sparks Creativity 

Consuming information is an important part of the creative process. But these days, there’s so much information coming our way, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Not to mention it takes away from the time we give ourselves to be creative. 

Forest bathing allows you to unwind and remove distractions. This lets you think more clearly. It also helps you see the world in a new way, which can inspire new ideas. 

6. Reconnects You With Nature 

When we take the time to connect with nature, it not only affects our personal health. It also affects the way we see nature. 

Research shows that a connection to nature will promote pro-environmental and pro-conservation behaviour. 

Not to mention, reconnecting with nature really can be a great way to rediscover our roots and remind us of the importance of simple pleasures. 

How To Forest Bathe

Forest bathing is not the same as walking, hiking or jogging through the forest. It’s like meditation in that it focuses on mindfulness, slowing down and being in the moment … but it’s still not the same. 

To enjoy forest bathing, you need to find a relaxing spot. Think about what you find most peaceful outdoors. Is it the smell of damp soil? The sound of a stream? Hearing bird songs? Maybe it’s a specific place that brings back good memories. There is no right or wrong location, you just need somewhere that can surround you in nature. 

When you get to your chosen location, leave your camera behind. Don’t plan a route and give yourself lots of time. 

The goal isn’t to reach a set distance or a specific heart rate. It’s about slowing down and taking in the world around you. Once you are completely surrounded by nature, stop and look around. Take in all your surroundings. Close your eyes and engage your other senses. 

Your forest bathing experience is not meant to be overwhelming. While many people go forest bathing alone, it’s okay to bring a friend. There are also groups and organizations that provide guided experiences. Guides will help set the pace and uncover opportunities for you to experience the environment with all your senses. 

You can enjoy forest bathing as often or as little as you like. However, to gain the most benefits, it’s recommended you do it at least once every 1 to 4 weeks. 

Always Put Safety First When Forest Bathing

When doing any sort of outdoor activity, it is important to put safety first. Wear proper clothing and footwear and bring drinks and snacks if you’ll be gone for a while. Also be sure to familiarize yourself with the wildlife and plants that are common to the area, such as poison ivy and ticks. 

RELATED: SMDHU promotes free app to help residents identify ticks …

Don’t wander off the trail unless you are confident with where you’re going. If you do leave the path to further immerse yourself in nature, make sure that it’s allowed. You don’t want to trespass onto other people’s property or to enter areas where walking is not permitted. 

Tell a friend or family member where you are going and how long you’ll be. While some people leave their phones behind, the decision should reflect your personal comfort level. If you feel safer bringing your phone, go ahead. Just remember to have it off or on silent so that you aren’t tempted to check it. 

Where To Go Forest Bathing In Barrie

Barrie has over 740 acres of scenic parks, 88 kms of trails and is close to many nature conservations. That makes it a perfect locale for forest bathing. 

Some popular areas to consider for your next forest bathing experience are: 

Sunnidale Park – Barrie’s largest in city park with over 50 acres of space to explore, including the city’s only arboretum 

Gables Park – 35 acres with large paths, towering trees and a trillium covered forest floor 

Ardagh Bluffs Natural Park – 518 acres of environmentally protected land with 17 km of trails 

Bear Creek Eco Park – 7.8 acre park with a marsh and lots of ducks, frogs and other wildlife 

Simcoe County Forests – Simcoe county has over 150 forests that are open for recreational use

Springwater Provincial Park – you must pay to use this park, but it has 12 km of trails and is great for birdwatchers 

Copeland Forest – 4,400 acre forest that features towering trees and wetlands

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