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Forests, these unsuspected allies of your health, science says so

© Sebastian Unrau/Unsplash

The beneficial influence of nature on our mental health no longer needs to be proven. More particularly, voluntarily putting yourself in contact with the forest promotes the development of our psychological balance. Research in this direction is becoming more and more numerous; we are not talking about a questionable new age practice. Far from being a simple outlet, this practice, called “ shinrin-yoku » in Japan, or literally translated as “ forest bathing ” is experiencing growing popularity on a global scale.

Forest bathing, long considered a pseudoscience due to the lack of conclusive results, is now taken seriously by the scientific community and is attracting growing interest among health professionals.

The positive effects of forest bathing

The concept of shinrin-yoku was popularized in Japan in the 1980s and is based on the deep belief that soaking up forests can help the forest atmosphere can transform our physical and mental state. As early as 1982, the Japanese archipelago even initiated a national policy aimed at promoting this practice, in the hope of countering professional burnout.

Japanese research dating from 2009, published in the journal Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, already highlighted the positive effects of this practice. A simple walk in the forest was enough to lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol levels – the emotional or physical stress hormone – and calm the heart rate. Another interesting result: increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, a process that induces increased relaxation.

In 2017 , a paper published in Naturealso goes in this direction. This demonstrated that exposure to natural environments, particularly urban green spaces and forests, strengthens the integrity of the amygdala, suggesting that these could have effects beneficial to this brain structure. Thowever, the cross-sectional nature of the study does not make it possible to establish a causal link, and it is possible that individuals with better structural integrity of the amygdala choose to live closer to forests.

The simple act of walking in an urban park would also have positive and tangible effects on mood and well-being, this is a study published in 2022 in the journal Cities and Healthwho proved it. The results showed that walking in urban green spaces improved positive mood, increased heart rate variability (indicating a reduction in physiological stress), and decreased stress.

Another study, dating from 2019 and published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, established a correlation between exposure to nature and improved cognitive flexibility, memory and attention.

Benefits for children

Research on the impact of shinrin-yoku among the youngest, although still embryonic, suggest very encouraging prospects. A recent study, published in 2023 in the journal Tech Science, highlighted a notable improvement in children suffering from psychological and behavioral disorders, such as melancholy, irritability and exhaustion, after participating in structured forest immersion sessions.

Leela Magavi, a psychiatrist trained at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, states with conviction: “ Spending time in nature and away from screens can reset children's circadian rhythms and allow them to sleep better » The specialist adds: “ Finding yourself in the great outdoors with a caregiver or friends can strengthen neural connections and improve cognition, productivity, and academic achievement […] By practicing mindfulness outdoors, children improve the quality of time spent with their loved ones and create bonds and positive memories”.

How to practice forest bathing? Nothing really complicated, it doesn't require any know-how. First tip: move away from your phone or make sure that it cannot distract you during your walk. Slow down the pace as much as possible and if you do it with your child, let them go at their own speed and stick to it. Ask him what is around him, what he smells or hears. In other words: encourage their sensory experience, it will also help you do the same.

  • Forest bathing is now supported by scientific research that has shown that it promotes mental and physical well-being.
  • Studies show several benefits: reduction of stress, improvement of memory and strengthening of cardiovascular health.
  • For children, contact with the forest is associated with notable improvements in cognition, better sleep and emotional well-being

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116