When researching content for this year I came across a reference to “forest bathing” being one of the hot trends for 2017. I must admit I was intrigued to find out what forest bathing was as I had never heard of it before. I had visions of trees flourishing around lakes or some other body of water but I found out there was a more figurative than literal meaning to this phrase. Like gardening, it has positive health benefits that we all could benefit from.

The purpose of forest bathing is to teach us to slow down and become more attuned to our natural surroundings. Too often when we hike a nature trail we are so focused on getting to the end of the hike that we miss a lot of what surrounds us. Forest bathing encourages you to slowly walk that same trail but to focus on using your senses to interact with the natural world around you. It is not a race to get to the end but to take in what you are seeing, smelling and touching. Try listening to the birds chirping to one another and see the leaves rustling in the breeze.

So where did the concept of forest bathing originate?  Back in the early 1990s the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-Yoku which when translated means forest bathing. Simply put, the purpose of forest bathing is to relieve stress. Recent studies have indicated that work-related stress increases health care costs by $190 billion each year in the U.S. so anything that can help reduce stress is worth looking into.

While it might be easy to dismiss forest bathing as just another fad, studies in Japan have documented its efficacy. These studies showed that the forest walkers saw a reduction in systolic blood pressure from 141 to 134 after four hours in the forest. This might not sound like much but many doctors agree that we should aim to keep our blood pressure under 140. Other studies have shown that forest bathing reduces hormones that are associated with stress and it reduced blood glucose levels in diabetics.

The Associations of Nature and Forest Therapy hope to have 1,000 trained forest bathing guides in the U.S. by the end of this year so it is pretty clear that this practice is only going to become more widely known. Now that you know all about it maybe you can practice forest bathing during your next visit to the woods!

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