The Buzz

Skip the sunbathing and give forest bathing a try instead

Natural surface trail at Thorn Creek Woods
Thorn Creek Woods Nature Preserve is one of many Will County forest preserves that offer perfect spots for forest bathing. (Photo by Chris Cheng)

Forest bathing doesn't have quite the same ring to it as sunbathing, but if you're looking for an outdoor activity that's good for your body, mind and spirit you might want to give it a try.

The practice of forest bathing first emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a way to encourage people to quietly reconnect with nature, according to National Geographic. In Japan, forest bathing is called shinrin-yoku, with "shinrin" meaning forest and "yoku" meaning bath.

The idea of forest bathing isn't to exercise in nature, but to simply be in the forest, connecting to nature with all your senses, Time reports. It's a simple and easy way to reap the benefits of time spent in nature in a world where most people spend most of their time far from it.

By 2050, it is estimated that 66% of the world's population will be city dwellers, Time reports. And we Americans spend the vast majority of our time — 93% percent — inside.

But the benefits of spending time outdoors are many, as study after study has proven. For example, a study published in 2019 found that spending two hours outside each week significantly boosts people's mental and physical health and well-being. Another study found that living near or spending time in natural green spaces reduces a person's risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, premature death and preterm birth.

Want to give forest bathing a try? All you need is a place where there are trees. It could be a nearby park, one of our forest preserves or even your own yard. Forest bathing isn't supposed to be strenuous; you can take a leisurely stroll or even find a comfortable place to sit, the Japan National Tourism Organization advises.

For a true shinrin-yoku experience, leave your phone behind. The point of the exercise is connecting with nature without the distractions of everyday life. Simply breathe in and out while experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of nature all around you. 

Forest bathing should be unique to the individual, Time reports. If you like the smell outside after it rains, try to spend your time forest bathing after a good rainfall. If you like the sound of water flowing, try to find a nice spot where a creek or river runs through the forest.

Not convinced forest bathing will be beneficial to you? In Japan, shinrin-yoku has become a vital part of preventive healthcare, the tourism organization reports. Studies have shown forest bathing helps improve people's mood, stress levels, ability to focus and sleep quality.

Japan isn't the only country where doctors have begun "prescribing" patients time spent in the great outdoors. Doctors in Scotland also regularly prescribe time in nature to help treat chronic conditions such as anxiety, depression and high blood pressure, CNN reports.

There's also a growing movement here in the United States to prescribe nature to decrease the burden of chronic disease and increase Americans' well-being. That's the goal of the non-profit Park Rx America, which encourages doctors to prescribe nature as a routine part of healthcare.

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