It is an old saying that fresh air is good for you and healthy. Also that staying in nature is healthy, you know. But more and more it turns out that staying outdoors more often has tangible health benefits. This is also shown by a new study.
Study: 2 hours of nature per week are healthy
A team of health scientists led by environmental psychologist Mathew White of the University of Exeter has now found in a study published in Scientific Reports that your health already benefits from spending about 2 hours a week in the great outdoors. For those who can, we recommend a visit to the forest, because nowhere else are you so close to nature. For this purpose we recommend the principle of forest bathing, which we briefly introduce to you here.
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What is forest bathing?
When a study says that staying in nature is healthy, it almost screams for a forest bath. In Japan, Shinrin Yoku, which translates as “healing forest bathing”, is regarded as a medicine that is now finding more and more followers in Germany as well. We explain the difference between bathing in the forest and a normal walk in the forest and the scientifically proven health effects of forest bathing:
How does Waldbaden differ from “normal” forest walks?
“When forest bathing, we dive into the forest”, explains forest bathing expert Annette Bernjus, “Diving in means that we are very slowly on our way – we stroll”. Again and again one stops or sits down, rests and rests. Bernjus: “A bath in the forest should last at least 2 hours if possible – and you don’t travel more than 2 to 3 kilometres. I personally prefer 3 or 4 hours.
The distance is not longer than 5 kilometres – only in winter maybe a little longer, because you don’t sit and rest as much.
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How does Waldbaden work?
There is hardly any talking during the forest bath and of course no checking of e-mails on the mobile phone. All attention is focused on the forest.
“The first five minutes in the forest should be the first time you arrive. For this I close my eyes, standing or sitting, and prepare myself for forest bathing. Then I stroll slowly and comfortably along a path that I have chosen. On the way I always stop, sit down or lie down”, Bernjus explains the beginning of a typical forest bathing walk.
Just leave the phone at home and your forest bathing session does not need to be recorded for Instagram. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
At every place where you stop, you don’t think about what you want to cook later and you don’t talk. Instead, you try to perceive the forest with all your senses and concentrate entirely on the colours, shapes, smells and sounds around you. “For example, you can take a close look at the bark of a tree to see if I can see a pattern in it or watch a beetle crawling,” says Bernjus, “or I can watch the leaves in the wind. See if you can see the sky through the crown.”
Of course, everyday thoughts keep coming to mind. But just like in meditation – and forest bathing consists of many small mediations – you direct your thoughts again and again, for example, to the noise you make when walking on the forest floor or to the smell of leaves. Take off your shoes and feel the moss under your feet, smell the plants or hold your hands in a stream – consciously, calmly, attentively.
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“Between the sense exercises, you keep strolling, then stop again, observe something or touch something,” says Bernjus, “If you like, you can build in small movement units in between – qigong or simply stretching, stretching, stretching.
Before you dive back into the daily routine, take another 5 minutes, this time to reflect and come back.
Waldbaden: How healthy is a stay in nature?
The Japanese medicine professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki specialized in forest therapy as early as the 1990s and has been researching the physiological and psychological effects of Shinrin Yoku on the human body ever since. In a study in cooperation with the Center for Environment, Health and Field Science at the University of Chiba, he conducted experiments with 756 test persons. The result:
- The sympathetic nerve activity, which increases under stress, decreases when forest bathing.
- The parasympathetic nerve activity, which increases with relaxation, increases.
- The stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol decrease.
- BP’s dropping.
- Heart rate’s dropping.
- The number of killer cells and anti-cancer proteins is increasing. This means that the immune system is strengthened.
Conclusion: bathing in the forest has a significant positive effect on the nervous, hormonal and immune system.
“This effect lasts for at least a week,” Professor Miyazaki reports in his book “Shinrin Yoku. Healing Forest Bathing”. The subjectively collected information also proves a positive effect on the psyche: Almost all test persons stated that they felt calmer, more refreshed and emotionally stable and that they had fewer feelings of anxiety.
When the sun is shining, swimming in the forest is of course great fun, but nature’s healing powers also work in the rain and cold. © Dennis van de Water/ Shutterstock.com This helps against itchy mosquito bites
The research group also wanted to know whether similar effects could be achieved by careful walks in parks in the middle of a large city. The result: increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system could also be measured there, as well as a slightly lower pulse rate and an increased feeling of well-being. An increase in the cancer-fighting killer cell, on the other hand, could not be detected in the test persons in the urban environment.
Alone or in a group through nature?
You can experience the healing powers of nature alone or in a guided group. Don’t worry: If you take part in a guided group, you won’t always be in a troop. Times when you are completely on your own are always scheduled.
“In the meantime, there are more and more offers in Waldbaden”, says Bernjus. Some are organized by course instructors for Waldbaden themselves, because more and more qigong and meditation teachers are now training in Waldbaden. “At the moment there are the first offers at adult education centres and even forestry offices offer Waldbaden,” says Bernjus. For information on where guided forest bathing tours take place in your area, please contact the Waldbaden Network.
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A walk in the forest is like natural medicine. Whoever walks through nature according to the Japanese Shinrin Yoku method benefits healthwise and psychologically much more intensively from the healing power of nature. Try it out!