The Icelandic government is recommending “tree hugging” nature walks to improve mental and physical health during quarantine
The Icelandic Forestry Service is encouraging people to hug trees as a sort of consolation for not being able to hug other humans during the next several weeks of social distancing, RÚV reports.
National Forest rangers in East Iceland have been clearing and widening snow-covered paths to ensure that locals can still enjoy the mental and physical health benefits of the great outdoors.
“Because of the risk of infection, people are now asked to avoid contact and intimacy, but the trees still spread their arms,” says Hallormsstaður National Forest manager Þór Þorfinnsson.
“When you hug a tree, you feel it first in your toes and then up your legs and into your chest and then up into your head. It’s such a wonderful feeling of relaxation and then you’re ready for a new day and new challenges.”
“If you can give yourself five minutes a day, that’s definitely enough,” he says. “You can also do it many times a day … but once a day will definitely do the trick.
“It is also good to close your eyes while hugging or hugging a tree,” adds assistant forest ranger Bergrún Anna Þórsteinsdóttir. “I lean my cheek against the tree and find the warmth and currents flowing from the tree into me. It is quite clear.”
While the rangers may sound like they’ve been isolated in the woo
ds sampling fungi for too long, there is actually a growing body of scientific research behind their sentiment.
Several studies link forest bathing to an impressive array of health benefits including reduced stress hormones and boosted immunity.
For example, a Japanese study found forest bathing reduced blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol more than a walk through the city, while 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 — white blood cells that fight infected or tumor cells — were 50 percent higher after 3 days of forest bathing.