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

Forest Bathing

forestbathingNo 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. Wow. Wow. Double wow. What wonderful science.

    slacker wrote on July 16th, 2010
  2. You have summed it up. I just moved from a city in Florida, where I was starving for green, to the Pacific NW where there is a forest literally outside my door, and I walk through it every day. I also seek out other forests to walk through. I am so happy in the forest I think I will burst out of my skin. Ditto for the kiddos. They love it too! The sights, smells, and sounds are like heaven. Love it!

    Kristina wrote on July 16th, 2010
  3. Another great post. I’m an urban dweller, and I think we urbanites have to get out to where they can see the stars regularly as an ego check, a reminder of how small we are, really.

    Duncan wrote on July 16th, 2010
  4. This is so true Mark. Great post. I might eat Primal and I try to exercise Primal but I remember in my younger years how being in a forest setting made me feel alive and healthy. Now I am forced to spend most of my time indoors with very little exposure to nature and my health has been declining rapidly (physically and emotionally) over the last 10 years. I often think about how I miss the trees and nature I was surrounded with in my youth.

    Angelina wrote on July 16th, 2010
  5. This post really reminds me to get outdoors more and get into a nice serene forest. I used to love walking or riding my bike through a local forest when I was a kid. It was so calming. I don’t do it enough and I think getting out and into the forest will instantly bring back some wonderful childhood memories.

    - Tim D

    Tim - The Lean Look wrote on July 16th, 2010
  6. Mark,
    You need to get a room in the Hilton…sit in the warm jacuzzi bath, order room service (shrip coctail and a martini) and releax from relaxing a little… outdoors is really nice…but nothing beats a warm bath..
    Heywood J

    Heywood Jablonsky wrote on July 16th, 2010
  7. I moved from Brooklyn, NYC to a small alpine town and I hate it. I thought it would grow on me but it hasn’t. Nature might be natural but it doesn’t mean we all “naturally” love it. I come alive and thrive in an urban space. If reliable research says I should do go stagger around a forest regularly then maybe I’ll try a little harder to do it but I imagine my disdain for the practice might taint the healthful benefits.

    Camille wrote on July 17th, 2010
  8. Great post Mark..You should start reading the works of ET Seton and George Sears (AKA Nessmuk) if you have not already. I just spent almost a week camping (in a tent of course) on the ocean with my sons – It was the Grok Lifestyle all the way. Outdoor life IS the HEALTHIEST lifestyle.

    Doug wrote on July 17th, 2010
  9. fantabulous post! i’m actually a student of eco-psycology and a lot of what i want to do in my career is based on this very principle. getting outside (like deep outside) is HEALING. just like we are wired for meat and plants we are wired to be outside.

    @hannah and cassandra – i also find the beach to be profoundly healing. it does stir a different feeling up in me, though. i feel wilder, less encumbered by the ocean and a little more “reverent” in the forest, if that makes sense. of course, i grew up in the caribbean.

    jennifer wrote on July 17th, 2010
  10. @heywood….you should try to track down some natural hot springs in a forest. BOOM…the very best of the best.

    jennifer wrote on July 17th, 2010
  11. I am a city boy. I love living in an urban environment where I can walk to most things (including work)along tree-lined streets in historic neighborhoods. But one of the biggest reasons I promote city living is to preserve the wonderful wilderness that is so close by. I grew up in suburbia where there simply isn’t enough nature or enough city to make me happy — just cars and parking lots. Luckily, here in St. Louis I have the wonderful Ozark Forest at my back door and the mighty Mississippi at my feet. For a quick restorative jaunt I can lose myself in Forest Park (much like Central Park) or the world-famous Missouri Botanical Garden — both a mile or two from my house. I can choose to walk, cycle, or drive.

    A few years ago I was showing my suburban cousin around our beautiful city. Though she grew up “here”she knew little about the City itself. She was amazed at the beauty of the architecture, the lushness of the century-old trees, and all the things I find wonderful about living here but then she said to me, “That’s great for you young and single people (we’re the same age) but I have children and they need to be able to play in the street.” To which I responded, “In the City our kids don’t have to play in the street, that’s why we have parks every few blocks.”

    Dustin Bopp wrote on July 17th, 2010
    • There may be a time in my life when I decide to go live a secluded life in the mountains or the woods — I certainly enjoy visiting. But for now I live where it’s easy to practice my craft (architecture) and belong to a community of people I love. And, while I did grow up in suburbia, my family did have a cabin on a private lake 80 miles from home where we spent every weekend all year-round with not even a phone. At times I resented not being able to play organized sports or go to friend’s birthday parties because we were always gone but reflecting back now I wouldn’t give it up for the world. While other families would drive to Florida once a year we had a vacation every weekend. It was a weekly chance to reconnect with nature and family. I spent a great deal of time in solitude wondering through the woods, paddling or sailing around the lake but the hours-long family walks (spring, summer, winter, fall) were invaluable.

      Dustin Bopp wrote on July 17th, 2010
  12. You know what’s beautiful? Reading exactly this post sitting in the dark on the front porch of my great grandfather’s hunting cabin in the high sierras. I just thought I was getting a week of barefoot walks by the lake. Now you’re telling me there’s an immune system boost? Ahhhh life is good!

    Jennifer wrote on July 18th, 2010
  13. i loved this.

    i do think it’s interesting to hear so many people notice that living a primal lifestyle also, somehow draws you back to nature………hm…..

    my husband and i are in a transition of trying to live primally… which fits in well with living locally and consuming less. our dream is to live on a few acres, grow our own food, maybe even live off the grid. :D the perfect spot will have trees and a creek.

    i do have to admit, in our perfect spot, i still want a claw foot tub under the sun and moon. :)

    coley wrote on July 19th, 2010
  14. From Nessmuk’s Woodcraft…
    “For brick and mortar breed filth and crime, With a pulse of evil that throbs and beats;
    And men are withered before their prime By the curse paved in with the lanes and streets.

    And lungs are poisoned and shoulders bowed,
    In the smothering reek of mill and mine;
    And death stalks in on the struggling crowd – But he shuns the shadow of oak and pine.”

    Doug wrote on July 19th, 2010
  15. I believe in this notion 100%. I have experienced this when I returned form Iraq. I spent 2 weeks in the Appalachian mountains hiking and camping to relax the mind and rebuild the soul.

    “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”.

    Matt wrote on July 20th, 2010
  16. I love to get outside in the bush here in New Zealand. Out that back of my friends house is a huge bush block and we often go in there and push over dead trees, lift logs, throw rocks (big rocks) and climb anything we can (including vines to swing from. I feel great afterwards.

    Blah wrote on March 17th, 2011
  17. When I was a kid I used to spend all day in the woods during the summer. Now I live in the city, so I connect to nature by sailing and spending time on the water. It gives me the same sense of peace I get spending time in the woods.

    Mystic Knotwork Jill wrote on July 17th, 2011
  18. Cool post, keep up the great work!

    Kurt Smiglewski wrote on September 4th, 2011
  19. Two observations:

    1) Just got back from camping this weekend. While there, I kept experiencing these bizarre feelings of contentment and happiness. Seriously, I was surprised to be experiencing them.

    2) The effects of going outside are instantaneously observable in children. When our kids are busting the house at the seams on a weekend morning with their energy and noise, we head outdoors. The effect is immediate. They become calm, engaged, and more cooperative. (NB: Everything’s relative.)

    RNCJr wrote on September 14th, 2011
  20. I always come back saner and happier than when I went.

    Kate (Cathy Johnson) wrote on September 14th, 2011
  21. My husband told me about this post. We live 50 yards from a forest, someone in our family is in it almost every day. Thank you for making me feel like it is beneficial to our health.

    Jill wrote on September 15th, 2011
  22. Wow, I can relate to this post. I have been to Edmonton,Canada and been to Alberta forest. Oh yes, it was amazing trip. I love the scenery and it was such a great relief. After reading this post, I am thinking about going back to the place.

    Samuel Jacobs wrote on October 16th, 2011
  23. And read Henri David Thoreau

    rachel wrote on December 7th, 2011
  24. I am laughing because I am setting up a clawfoot tub out in our grove of trees this weekend! Oh well!

    Kimberly wrote on June 7th, 2012
  25. As someone who spent 33 years in Oregon and now lives in the suburbs in Arizona (Pheonix) I can tell you this is sooo true. I get a “gotta get around some trees” feeling and have to drive 2 hours to get there but once I do, I don’t want to come back. It helps alot.

    I never knew there was a therapy but I do know that everytime I come back to Oregon for the summer I want to hug and kiss the trees for being there. I feel “tree deprived” without any greenery around.

    katya wrote on June 13th, 2012
  26. Here in Canada, the average city dweller lives within an hour or two of the edge of millions of acres of wilderness. There are places where one can go for weeks without seeing other people, drink water from the streams and rivers, and fast from electricity. And there are people who escape into the wild and never come back.

    Jay Brennan wrote on October 25th, 2012
  27. I’ve always know this to be true, and now we have science to point to! Thanks so much Mark for bringing this to light.

    Heading for the forest!

    Marli wrote on November 16th, 2012
  28. If you do the 24 hour fast, can you still drink coffee in the am?

    Bonnie wrote on September 9th, 2013

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