Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
16 Jul

Forest Bathing

No claw-footed tub in the woods here. No Calgon fantasies for the frazzled mind or romantic shower under a waterfall. (Sorry to disappoint.) Think more science, less whimsy, but definite Primal roots. Forest bathing, as it has been dubbed, is actually a studied medical practice. In Japan, the research is spawning a whole new dimension of patient treatment called “forest therapy.”

Forests, like other wild settings, engage our senses in more subtle but evolutionarily familiar ways than our typical modern environments. Sounds in nature are quieter but more subtly layered. Our sight is more expansive. Our sense of touch, finer. Our smell, more acute. Surrounded by nature, our perception reorients to its default setting. As we’ve highlighted in the past, an increasing amount of research shows just how “natural” time in nature is for our physiological and psychological well-being. Exposure to green space offers protective factors against depression and anxiety and can help alleviate the symptoms of ADD. Instinctively, we know this and have likely experienced it. When we step outside our commotion-filled, asphalt-coated environments and truly inhabit a wild space, we’re more relaxed, more at peace. The mind finds quiet and the soul, release.

Yet, the research behind forest bathing takes all this a dramatic step further. Time in a wild setting, studies indicate, unleashes a powerful cascade of hormonal and cellular responses. Salivary cortisol, for example, dropped on average 13.4% when subjects simply looked at a forest setting for 20 minutes. Pulse rate, blood pressure and sympathetic nerve activity decreased as well. Even more remarkable is the significant – and lasting – impact on so called “natural killer” cells, powerful lymphocytes known to fight off infection and attack cancer growth. A longer three day trip in the forest with daily walks resulted in a 50% rise in NK activity as well as an increase in the number of NK cells! The forest exposure, researchers found, also resulted in increased anti-cancer protein expression. Tests further indicated a rise in the levels of intracellular granulysin, perforin, and granzymes A/B and a decrease in urinary adrenaline. What’s perhaps most surprising is this: subjects who participated in this series of forest bathing trips showed immune NK benefits that lasted more than a month. This finding, the researchers suggest, indicates the protective benefit of a monthly trip to the forest environment. (Have any weekend plans?) Yet, additional studies suggest that part of this immune boost is attributable to phytoncides, wood’s essential oils. Score on for aromatherapy. It’s interesting food for thought.

As a result of these studies, government entities in Japan are partnering with the medical industry to hold free health checkups at park areas and to create designations for “official” forest therapy sites. Finally, more companies are opting to include forest therapy in health care plans.

What I love about this research is the big picture implication. Without disparaging other daily efforts, let me say this: however ardent our efforts are to improve diet and exercise, a healthy life is so much more than the sum of a few prescribed parts. (Missing the forest through the trees, you might say….) The ultimate message I take from forest therapy is this: far from a social or cultural indulgence, living with and within the wild feeds the body as well as the soul. Encountering nature each day (in whatever way we can) offers a means of genuine nourishment and actualization. The benefits, however dramatic or obscure, are undeniable. The more I learn, the more amazed I am at the intricate interplay between our physical functioning and environmental influences. Ultimately, we’re primal animals down to the genes. We live best when we live in congruence with that fact. For me, the Primal Blueprint is about honing in on that essential experience. I’ve not only been healthier but happier and more at peace since choosing this lifestyle. The evolutionary model – the Primal logic – is there to be relished.

On that note, everybody, have a great weekend. Get out and enjoy! Thanks for reading.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. That’s so interesting. I’d like to follow that research as it gets studied more.

    It makes sense. I use to spend hours out in nature when I was a kid, and one of my favourite activities now is mountain biking – always out in the wilderness.

    Chris wrote on July 16th, 2010
  2. This site is an absolute gem. Everyday I learn something new. It all makes sense. Thank you Mark, for all that you do.

    Todd wrote on July 16th, 2010
    • I totally agree with this. Thank’s Mark for this thoughts.

      Inspiration is above all.

      Astaldo wrote on July 16th, 2010
  3. Wow this is interesting! I guess living in the country side would be better than living downtown?….Less EMF, for trees, more relaxing

    frank wrote on July 16th, 2010
  4. Time to go camping.

    BenK wrote on July 16th, 2010
  5. Mark,

    Once again a great post; you continue to produce thoughtful topics that everyone who visits this site appreciates.

    Now, away from the sentametalism.

    This is inherently true. I find that every time I am where I cannot see, hear, smell or taste “civilization” everything is better. Time seems to slow down and you instinctively relax. Once again, excellent post; everyone should go for a hike this weekend regardless of the weather.

    Jason wrote on July 16th, 2010
  6. Just like vit. D or sunshine isn’t quite supplementation, but rather restoration, so to is going camping or hiking. The wilderness is our default.

    Erik wrote on July 16th, 2010
  7. I have been a strong supporter of the “get kids outside” movement. This is more wonderful proof of that idea. Great post!!!

    Harry wrote on July 16th, 2010
  8. I agree wholeheartedly. The more we are learning about our environment and our own physiology, the more we are realizing how utterly dependent we are on this intricate, interconnected world.

    Emerson makes a good point:

    “When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

    We need to make it a point to get into our backyard wilderness as often as we can, or accept that we’ll start suffering from NDD – Nature Deficit Disorder :)

    John Sifferman wrote on July 16th, 2010
    • Agree 100%

      Ez wrote on June 16th, 2012
  9. This is too awesome. Ever since I went primal 3 months ago I have fallen in love with nature. I want to spend so much more time outside and just go out in the wild. I went camping for the 4th of July and it was the first time in over 10 years!!!!!!!!!!

    I found out my relatives are going backpacking for one week… just 3 months ago I had zero interest in this… I would LOVE to go do this today!!

    Because of this I am living a much more healthy and vibrant life! Thanks Mark for inspiring me so I can help inspire others!!

    Primal Toad wrote on July 16th, 2010
  10. My parents just bought some lake front property north of our home city. I can’t wait to head up there again! It was so peaceful. Definitely restorative. I’m going to forward this post on to them! Another nudge in the primal direction.

    Caitlin wrote on July 16th, 2010
  11. My favorite post so far! I don’t need any research to tell me that the forest will cure what ails the soul!

    For all of the parents out there, look up a book titled Last Child in the Woods (Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder) by Richard Louv. Get out there with your kids and have some FUN!!!

    Cassandra wrote on July 16th, 2010
  12. very good post.

    …everybody, get your butts outside!

    shel wrote on July 16th, 2010
  13. Thanks for this great post! Who knew there was science behind my longing to get in the trees. :)For myself, a forest is my favorite cathedral….an instant connection with my Creator.

    Momto3 wrote on July 16th, 2010
  14. Beautiful post. I live in the heart of ski country, and in the summer time we try to get out into the forest a few days a week. In July we hunt for wild alpine strawberries and raspberries. In late August and September, when the rains begin to hit, we hunt for wild mushrooms: chanterelles, boletes, oysters. It’s such a pleasure to be outside.

    Jenny wrote on July 16th, 2010
    • @Jenny: I live in Colo ski country too! For me unfortunately, that means 2-4 jobs just to stay afloat. So as soon as I get home from work, I take my pup down along Vasquez Creek or the Fraser River & watch him explore.
      Just a couple blocks walk from my house I’m alongside the river & I feel miles away. I can xc ski the same trail in the winter – I like evening skis the best :-)

      Peggy wrote on July 16th, 2010
  15. Just being in the forest in Northern Arizona, I definitely felt time slow down and was able to completely relax each day. It was amazing!

    What I’m wondering is if the same principle holds true of oceans/beaches. Can people who do not have access to forested areas close by, but who have beaches instead still reap these benefits? I’d rather be in the mountains in a forest myself, but I did always find the beach at sunrise a very calming and almost magical place to be.

    Hannah wrote on July 16th, 2010
    • Hannah- I’m not so sure that the beach holds the same special quality that we can get from the forest. I happen to live right on the bay in Florida panhandle and it just doesn’t compare. Even though I have access to a very secluded part of the water (on the military base) it just doesn’t compare. Yet, it could be that I’m just a forest person. Some people that thrive on the ocean might feel differently.
      Maybe it is the seclusion of the forest?

      Cassandra wrote on July 16th, 2010
      • Perhaps it depends on your circumstances too — I don’t have regular access to a beach and because of this, I imagine, when I do get to a beach it is a tremendously relaxing and meaningful experience for me. Just hearing it helps.

        So perhaps you’ve already met your “beach dosage” by sheer proximity, and vice versa?

        Jen wrote on July 18th, 2010
        • Probably! Since I’m a native Floridian I’ve had enough of the beach. I crave the woods, even the Florida woods. I loved living in North Carolina because the woods are so much more fragrant, as well as the streams are cooler/clearer. (and no alligators or moccasins)

          Cassandra wrote on July 18th, 2010
  16. The forest has always been my escape. I used to live in rural VA and my family’s property was half wooded with a creek. It was heaven on earth. I spent most of my time there running, jumping over logs, poking crawdads with a stick (probably not the nicest thing to do in hindsight, but hey I was a kid).

    My boyfriend and I just got back from Peaks of Otter in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Talk about great! No cell phones, radios, tvs…just forest covered mountains to hike in and lots of deer everywhere. It was beautiful!

    Sarah wrote on July 16th, 2010
  17. +100000

    Ely wrote on July 16th, 2010
  18. Perfect timing Mark!!! I was just talking with my girlfriend about finding a good place to go backpack camping this weekend! I’m soo forwarding this to her! :)

    Mlkrone wrote on July 16th, 2010
  19. That. Is. So. Cool.

    I’ve always noticed my stress levels dropping when I get out of the city and into the green. I assumed it was just my slightly antisocial personality. Who knew it was a universal phenomenon?

    There’s no substitute for getting out there, at least for a solitudinarian like me. But wild spaces could be a bigger part of city planning than they currently are . . . imagine walking to work, for example, via wooded pedestrian paths. One could design buildings to bring the outdoors in. (School would be a vastly improved experience). Heck, we could make a start right now by fighting the legal restrictions on prairie/wildflower/moss yards.

    Other ideas?

    Patricia wrote on July 16th, 2010
    • great idea. totally agree.

      coley wrote on July 19th, 2010
  20. The first thing me and the hubby and kids want to do when we go up north on the weekend is to jump in the lake no matter what temperature it is. Now I know the science behind why we feel this way!

    Carla wrote on July 16th, 2010
  21. Less interference with the Schumann resonance…makes sense.

    I’m looking forward to my normal Saturday hike with the dog tomorrow. We walk, run and occassionally sprint the woodland trails for a couple of hours.

    Have fun in nature this weekend all!

    Judy wrote on July 16th, 2010
  22. Wow, that was a great and timely post.

    I’ve noticed that ever since going primal I crave getting in the woods. I now dream of living in a small cabin in the woods and hunt, fish and grow my own food. I think this would truly be a great environment to raise healthy children.

    When it comes right down to it, we don’t need very much in life: nature, fresh air, food from nature, sunshine and water. All of this is free.

    I think I’ll try to escape for a couple of days in nature very soon with very basic equipment just to reconnect with what really matters.

    Thanks again Mark!

    sebastien wrote on July 16th, 2010
  23. I just spent 4 days in the deep woods of Northern Wisconsin, so I know exactly what you mean by restorative. Time slows down when your hiking through the woods or canoeing down a little river.

    I like the sounds (or lack of sounds) the best while walking in the woods.

    Eric wrote on July 16th, 2010
  24. That’s one of the things i love about living in New Hampshire–we’re mostly forest. There are even protected areas really close by where you can go for miles without coming across anything man-made. It’s great.

    Primalrob wrote on July 16th, 2010
  25. Yep, great post, just spent 9 days camping as I cycled from one end of the UK to the other, just wonderful. I run/walk through wooded trails almost every day and it always gives a sense of peace, the idea it could be used as a recognised therapy is very interesting, but so logical, as is everything about the Primal lifestyle.

    Have a great weekend

    Kelda wrote on July 16th, 2010
  26. Beautiful post, and I’ve found the more I get outside in nature, the happier, more relaxed and connected I feel.

    I’m lucky to live in an area with some nicely wooded parks and I’ve got three furry running/walking buddies that encourage me to get out every day, at least once.

    Page wrote on July 16th, 2010
  27. This concept is very popular in Norway (and I would guess in other Scandinavian countries), too, though I’ve not heard it described with the same term.

    One of my Bergen, Norwegian nephews goes to a public elementary school (based on the Rudolph Steiner philosophies) that emphasizes spending time in nature as an integral part of early childhood education, regardless of the weather (there’s a Norwegian saying – there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes). They take the kids into the forest as much as possible for entire school days, even multiple-night overnight stays, too.

    Anna wrote on July 16th, 2010
    • Lucky you to have family in Norway!! Talk about beautiful forest to roam around in! I’m jealous!

      Cassandra wrote on July 16th, 2010
    • oh man……. that sounds so nice.

      coley wrote on July 19th, 2010
  28. Ditto all the comments on the benefits of time in nature. One aspect I did not see discussed was the benefit of being grounded (literally, in the electrical sense) by spending time barefoot in contact with the earth (not insulated by shoes or buildings….). Our modern lifestyle represents a major departure from ancestral patterns where our bodies were in constant contact with the earth and exchanging electrical energy.

    I came across this recently (in a rather unexpected way as a link on the website of Jeff Spencer, DC, Lance Armstrong’s chiropractor), see the following for more info (I have no financial interest or connection, just found it interesting)

    Tom Schibler wrote on July 16th, 2010
  29. love the forest! luckily, i live on a property that backs (or fronts if you look at it from hwy sense) a national forest. and 80% of my property is forest anyways – 25 acres worth of a creek, and high mountain forest with pines, oak, and a lot of dreaded poison oak i seem to have had constantly for 8 months straight now :(

    earthspirit wrote on July 16th, 2010
    • try rubbing the inside of a banana on the rashes. Keep a thick application of it on there through the day. It will help dry up the blisters and calm the itching. I had it so much as a kid I don’t have a reaction to it anymore!

      Cassandra wrote on July 16th, 2010
  30. Growing up, my dad and I would go hiking in the high sierras every summer. Just me and dad, disappearing into some of the most beautiful spaces on earth. That was about 30 years ago I suppose and I can still remember so much of it.

    If only I could go back in time and do it all over again…

    Ken wrote on July 16th, 2010
  31. This sounds very congruent to Erwan LeCorre’s MovNat. No substitute for getting out in nature…

    Rob wrote on July 16th, 2010
  32. It’s really a bummer that we are so overpopulated that most of the time we can’t even get away from people when heading 4-5 hours deep into the woods.
    Someone else always has the same idea….

    I could literally live in the woods, in a tent type shelter and never see another soul again…that would be heaven for me. BUT…my husband loves his bathtub, A/C, couch and TV so much he’d never go for it.

    Never understood how people LOVE living in cities with a gazillion other people, all that noise and stink…yuck.
    My sister is married to a city boy…he never even takes a walk through the park, he’s always “allergic”.

    suvetar wrote on July 16th, 2010
    • Living in the cities maybe takes a certain type of person, but the variety and constant stimulation it offers can be very stimulating and life-affirming. It always was for me. Every day was a new start and posed the opportunity to do or be something new. There is something about the claustrophobia of a small town that probably helped lead Grok to that early grave.

      Camille wrote on July 17th, 2010
  33. Great post! I like to use stargazing as a natural retreat. I think Grok probably looked up at the stars for hours on end.
    Before cities and towns began spraying their lights all over the night sky rendering all but the very brightest objects visible to city dwellers, the night sky was pretty cool.
    If you have ever been somewhere far away from city lights, you know what I mean. I live in a big city suburb but still manage well with binoculars or a small telescope. It’s very relaxing.

    NotSoFast wrote on July 16th, 2010
  34. We just bought a little place on 2.5 acres of wooded hillside. I started reading about Primal/Paleo lifestyle shortly after. Hmmm…I’m thinking there’s a connection.

    There’s nothing like sitting on the porch early in the morning watching the deer. And since there is no TV, no internet, no phone – we rise with the sun and go to sleep at dark. Pure heaven.

    Just one question: does a hot tub on the deck count as forest bathing? LOL

    Chris Ault wrote on July 16th, 2010
  35. Love it! I get paid to hike/bike in parks (both city-type parks and forest-type parks) daily. Now if only it weren’t like a blast furnace and I weren’t wearing a black uniform and it’d be perfect!

    Bob wrote on July 16th, 2010
  36. I grow numerous flowers and some vegetables which take up most of my yard time but my favorite place in our garden is a path through a wild, secluded part of our property with tall trees.

    I do have to say though, when I am in a forested mountain, eventually I say…get me out of these trees! I need my open spaces and sky scapes too.

    Sharon wrote on July 16th, 2010
  37. I know I always feel better after a hike in the woods.

    Every weekend, usually on Sunday morning, I go for a hike and I always come back feeling like I’ve been on a mini vacation.

    Robert wrote on July 16th, 2010
  38. My bicycle club rides all over the Minneapolis area…not me…I always go down to a twenty-mile trail that is totally surrounded by farmland and woods…now I have a perfect excuse for being so terribly “antisocial”! After taking care of hundreds of passengers on my four and five-day trips, I just need the peace and quiet! Viva la forests!

    Cj wrote on July 16th, 2010

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