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Healthy Tips

Health Benefits of Nature Bathing

A Dose of the Forest

When was the last time you connected with nature? Do you remember the feeling of the sun on your skin? Maybe you recall the spongey soil beneath your shoes, or the rustle of birds above.

Did thinking back to this moment make you feel more relaxed?

Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” is a Japanese medical tradition that has been shown to offer great health benefits.

Spending time unplugged in nature can boost your mood and lower stress.

“Connection to nature is finding a home within the field integrative medicine in the United States,” says David Victorson, PhD, associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We’re beginning to focus on how exposure to — and interactions with — nature may play an important role in health and wellbeing.”

Through his young adult cancer support nonprofit organization, True North Treks, Dr. Victorson leads backcountry treks for young adult cancer survivors and their caregivers. He has led trips everywhere from grizzly bear country in Montana to the upper peninsula of Michigan. They meditate. They do yoga. They do nothing — in nature.

Participants report decreased depression and anxiety, and improved well-being and mood. According to Dr. Victorson, they also experience social connection and psychological restoration. By allowing their attention to settle within the nonlinear, spacious natural environments around them, they also report feeling less mentally fatigued as well.

Locally, Teresa Horton, PhD, Northwestern University Department of Anthropology, calls this concept a nature prescription, or an NRx.

She conducted a study in the forest preserves of Cook County, assessing the health benefits of an NRx. Study participants who took regular 50-minute walks in forest preserves experienced:

  • Improved mood
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced perceived stress
  • Increased sense of connectedness to nature
  • Decreased blood glucose levels

“A walk in the park is often the best antidote,” says Dr. Horton. “Not only is there a health benefit to movement, but we also found many participants maintained the peace they cultivated on these walks during their 20-minute drive home from the woods.”

Nature bathing is still a field in its infancy, but reported psychological benefits, such as stress reduction and mood improvement, continue to abound.

“Humans were intimately connected with nature for 99 percent of our existence,” says Dr. Victorson. “It’s no surprise that the one percent of our existence, when we’re disconnected from nature and destroying it, has impacted our psychological well-being.”

Northwestern Medicine Osher Center for Integrative Medicine