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Forest Bathing

How & Why You Should Do it, Especially In The Winter

By Blair Doucette, MScN

Forest bathing, or shinrin yoku, is a therapeutic practice that originated in Japan in the 1980s and is now being utilized stateside for its wellness benefits. The idea is essentially to just be in nature, absorbing its light, sounds, colors, and smells. This seems simple. We’re overworked, over-caffeinated, and under-apricated (I looked up nature words and “apricate” means to bask in the sun - like a cat!). The average American spends over 90% of their day away from nature, according to a 2001 study done by the EPA. So while spending more time in nature and less time on your phone scrolling through old emails to which you “forgot to respond,” seems commonsense from a wellness perspective, there is now scientific evidence to back its health claims.


  • There are several studies that show that forest bathing for at least 20 minutes can lead to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower overall heart rate, lower blood pressure, as well as increased parasympathetic (rest and digest) nerve activity and decreased sympathetic (fight or flight) nerve activity. (1)

  • A study performed by Stanford University has shown that nature may act as a buffer against anxiety and depression. Their study showed that subjects who walked for 90 minutes in a rural area had substantially lower activity in the part of their brain that is linked to anxiety and depression - the subgenual prefrontal cortex. (2)

  • Each plant contains certain volatile oils, which are responsible for their scents, that have been shown to increase Natural Killer cell activity in humans. Natural Killer cells are white blood cells that are largely responsible for the host-rejection of both tumors and virally infected cells. (3) Plants release these volatile oils through the process of natural gas exchange when their pores, called stomata, open. Most stomata open early in the morning and close at dusk. Thus, the beneficial effects of the volatile oils released by plant leaves are increased in the morning hours.