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Woodland wellness & forest bathing!

June is here, marking the official start of summer! With lighter evenings and warmer weather, you might find yourself spending more time outside. Whether it’s a stroll through the local countryside or a visit to one of Britain’s many woodland areas, being out in nature can lift your mood, help you feel calmer, and centre your thoughts, all while providing a great form of gentle exercise.

A study by the European Commission showed that Europeans spend a staggering 90% of their time indoors1, while in the UK, a concerning two in five adults spend less than an hour a day outside.2 With more people living in towns and cities, working longer hours and having family and social commitments, accessing green spaces and spending time outdoors is becoming increasingly difficult. This leaves many in a ‘nature deficit’ – spending too much time indoors and not enough in nature.

Green social prescribing

As a means to address this concerning trend, the NHS has introduced green social prescribing3 aiming to encourage more of us to venture outdoors. Green social prescribing focuses on people’s mental wellbeing by addressing issues such as loneliness and creating a sense of community. It also emphasises physical activity, through initiatives such as communal gardening projects, local hiking schemes and open water swimming.

Forest bathing

Many mental health and wellbeing experts, along with a growing number of medical practitioners and charities, such as The Woodland Trust4 are now suggesting we venture outside and immerse ourselves in nature, in a popular practise that is known as ‘forest bathing’ or ‘forest therapy’.

Forest bathing or ‘shinrin-yoku’, was first developed in Japan in the 1980s, when the Japanese government launched a series of studies to investigate the health benefits of spending time in forests, in response to increasing urbanisation and stress levels. The studies5= showed that an average of one to two hours of gentle walking through forest or woodland can boost the immune system, reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, improve sleep and concentration, amongst many other benefits.

What makes forest bathing beneficial?

Trees and plants release chemicals called phytoncides6 You can think of these natural compounds as wood “essential oils” given off by trees. These chemicals have natural antimicrobial and insecticidal qualities that help protect the tree from parasites. They also provide medicinal benefits.7 Phytoncides have a positive effect on your health by increasing natural killer cell activity. NK cells or ‘natural killer cells’ are part of the immune system which enhances your body’s ability to fight cancerous cells and pathogens. Studies shows that NK activity remained elevated from 7 to 30 days after visiting a forest.

Does walking around a city provide the same effects?

Research was done to see if the same effect was found from a two hour stroll around a city,8 but results showed levels did not match that of the forest studies. In the forest studies, phytoncides were in abundance with evergreens, such as pine, cedar, spruce, and particularly conifers. More of these chemicals are released during the warmer months, so with summer here, this is the perfect time to plan a walk.

The great advantage of forest bathing is that it’s absolutely free! It can be done anywhere, in any season! Plus, with so many different woodlands in the UK, from bluebell woods to ancient forests, you’ll get a different experience each time. It can be done alone if you’re in the mood for a quiet stroll, or go with friends and family if you’re feeling more social.

Tips on how to enjoy forest bathing

1. Use this as an opportunity to engage all 5 senses –

  • See the different colours and shades of green of the trees.
  • Hear the sounds of nature, streams and wildlife.
  • Smell the woodland, moss, and flowers.
  • Feel the textures of bark, or walk barefoot on the grass.
  • Taste the forest fruits, such as blackberries, raspberries and other edible berries (ensuring you can safely identify them before eating).

2. Wear supportive, comfortable walking shoes if you’re planning on taking a long walk or walking through bush or grassland.

3. Be sure to take some water and snacks such as trial mix, nuts or fruits.

4. Use a natural bug repellent – scents like lavender, lemongrass, eucalyptus and peppermint are known to naturally repel insects. These are chemical free so aren’t harmful for your skin or the environment.

So throw on a pair of boots, grab a snack and enjoy the great weather! To learn more, check out 10 ways walking is good for your health and your sanity!

Any questions? Contact one of our Nutritional Therapists via live chat, weekdays from 8 am to 8 pm.


Questions? Talk to a Nutritional Therapist on live chat!

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