We are constantly interacting with the environment around us. But how could something as simple as spending time among trees, stepping on the ground or smelling the bush, contribute to making us healthier? That’s what science says!
There is a Japanese tradition called Shinrin-yoku, which means “to absorb the atmosphere of the forest” or “to take a bath in the forest”, which makes us understand a little more of that. In 1982, the Forestry Authorities of Japan suggested announcing the practice of Shinrin-yoku to the public in order to promote a strengthening of immunity.
The idea worked so well that today the National Institute of Public Health in Japan recommends Shinrin-yoku, universities study it and hospitals use it as a therapeutic resource.
What science has discovered is that when you breathe fresh air from a forest, you are inhaling a cocktail of bioactive substances released by plants. Some of these substances are called terpenes, which are emitted by the leaves, trunks and thick bark of some trees. Even thin layers of foliage on the forest floor emit them.
We absorb these gaseous terpenes partially through our skin, but especially through the lungs.
Although forest medicine does not replace conventional medical examinations under any circumstances, scientific studies have found that forest air is like an old friend to our bodies. Scientists have identified that some of these terpenes have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic and neuroprotective activities, making the forest air a healing elixir.
It was also discovered that bathing in the forest also increases the cells that act in defence against diseases such as cancer. Those who spend only one day in the forest will have more cells of this nature in their blood for up to seven days after contact with the green. Those who stay in the forest for two or three days, have these high levels for another 30 days.
It is amazing to think that we get these long-lasting health benefits simply by being in a forest. We do not need to do rigorous trails or walks (although this is also excellent), just breathing and being in communion with the trees is enough to guarantee good health!