Breathing in the aroma or “pheromones” of the forest instantly reduces the stress hormone cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure, while boosting white blood cell count
Humans have been removed from their natural habitat — the forest.
We haven’t evolved for fast-paced, high-stress, tree-less city life, so it’s no wonder we suffer so many mental and related physical health problems.
And it makes sense that putting the human animal back in it’s natural habitat would cure many of these conditions.
But what is it about the forest that brings us back to homeostasis? Scientists haven’t been able to pin down an exact answer, but some suspect the trees are attracting and soothing us with a chemical aroma similar to human pheromones.
Since the dawn of civilization in Japan, when a patient suffers from stress, depression or anxiety, instead of a Prozac or Xanax, doctors prescribe soaking in the sights, sounds and especially the smells of the forest.
The Japanese term Shinrin yoku literally translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere”or “forest bathing.” Like sunbathing, it involves absorbing the healing elements of the forest, especially the aroma.
For thousands of years, the practice has proven itself one of the most effective remedies for almost all that ails civilized humans.
Forest bathing is such a trusted therapy in Japan and Korea, it’s covered by medical insurance.
With the average American spending more than 90 percent of their time indoors, it probably doesn’t come as a big surprise that taking a break in the woods would have a positive effect on our overall sense of well-being.
But studies link forest bathing to an impressive array of specific health benefits including reduced stress hormones, boosted immunity, improved memory and “feeling more alive.”
A Japanese study found forest bathing reduced blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol more than a walk through the city.
Studies in Finland and the United States showed similar reductions in tension and anxiety.
People on nature walks also tend to engage in less rumination, or negative overthinking, which is linked with depression.
In another study, the number of natural killer cells — a type of white blood cell that fights infected or tumor cells — were 50 percent higher after 3 days of forest bathing than before. Other immune system markers were significantly higher as well.
Pheromones of the forest
Some researchers attribute forest bathing’s soothing effects to our sense of awe when viewing natural beauty, but others say it has more to do with our sense of smell.
Trees emit essential wood oils and airborne chemicals called phytoncides, colloquially known in forest bathing circles as “the aroma of the forest.”
Phytoncides protect trees from insect infestation and microbial infection, but attract and promote health in humans.
“Between a human and a tree is the breath. We are each other’s air.” —Margaret Bates
Want to have the benefits of forest bathing at your doorstep? Build a 100-year forest in your backyard in just 10 years.