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.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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84 thoughts on “Forest Bathing”

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  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.

  2. This site is an absolute gem. Everyday I learn something new. It all makes sense. Thank you Mark, for all that you do.

    1. I totally agree with this. Thank’s Mark for this thoughts.

      Inspiration is above all.

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. I have been a strong supporter of the “get kids outside” movement. This is more wonderful proof of that idea. Great post!!!

  7. 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 🙂

  8. 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!!

  9. 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.

  10. 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!!!

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

    1. @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 🙂

  13. 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.

    1. 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?

      1. 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?

        1. 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)

  14. 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!

  15. 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! 🙂

  16. 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?

  17. 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!

  18. 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!

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

    1. Lucky you to have family in Norway!! Talk about beautiful forest to roam around in! I’m jealous!

  25. 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)

  26. 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 🙁

    1. 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!

  27. 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…

  28. This sounds very congruent to Erwan LeCorre’s MovNat. No substitute for getting out in nature…

  29. 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”.

    1. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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

  32. 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!

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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!

  36. Nature is the best place to be. I recently blogged about going to my parent’s house and the effect it had on me (we have a farm and lot of green fields and woods around our house).

    I came back so refreshed!

  37. I grew up in the middle-of-nowhere part of Minnesota (which is a middle-of-nowhere state as it is).

    I wound up spending plenty of time in the woods. It was right outside my door and I did plenty of fishing and hunting as well.

    There definitely is something therapeutic about being as far away from civilization as possible. There’s a lot going on out there that you wouldn’t realize until you start exploring!

  38. 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!

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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

  42. 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

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. @heywood….you should try to track down some natural hot springs in a forest. BOOM…the very best of the best.

  47. 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.”

    1. 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.

  48. 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!

  49. 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. 😀 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. 🙂

  50. 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.”

  51. 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”.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.)

  55. 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.

  56. 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.

  57. I am laughing because I am setting up a clawfoot tub out in our grove of trees this weekend! Oh well!

  58. 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.

  59. 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.

  60. 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!

  61. If you do the 24 hour fast, can you still drink coffee in the am?

  62. Fascinating article Mark!!

    I’m now not going to take my trips to Yosemite for granted like I used to and I will be conscious of this. What if the area of nature you are spending time in, say Sedona, which doesn’t have the Forest that Yosemite does. Would that effect the results here?