Spending time in nature has proven mental and physical health benefits.  In recent years, there has been a growing body of research on the effects of spending mindful time in nature.  Shinrin-Yoku, also known as "forest bathing," is the practice of spending time in nature, often in forested areas.  Originating in Japan in the 1980s, Shinrin-Yoku has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormone levels, and boost the immune system.  

When we spend time in nature, especially in forests and green spaces, it helps combat anxiety, depression and stress.  Studies show that spending at least 20 minutes in nature can help lower cortisol levels, the hormone primarily responsible for stress.  Walking in a forest also increases levels of serotonin, the "feel good" hormone responsible for mood regulation.  Exposure to natural sunlight while Shinrin-Yoku also boosts Vitamin D levels, which helps regulate mood and ease depression.  

Spending mindful time in nature also has cardiovascular benefits like lowering blood pressure and heart rate.  A study of healthy individuals found that forest walking on a treadmill decreased systolic blood pressure by 6.2% and diastolic blood pressure by 2.8% on average compared to urban walking.  Another study found that walking in forests decreased heart rate by 3.0% on average compared to urban walking.  The natural elements of the forest environment like wood essential oils and negative ions are thought to contribute to these effects.

Shinrin-Yoku enhances immunity and provides anti-cancer effects.  Phytoncides, the essential oils emitted by trees, have been shown to boost natural killer (NK) cells, the white blood cells that kill virally infected cells and tumor cells.  Studies show NK cell levels remain elevated for 30 days after spending time in a forest.  This effect is not seen with exposure to essential oils in an indoor environment.  Other studies have found forest bathing may help prevent cancer cell growth  and migration.  

Spending time mindfully walking through forests provides cognitive benefits as well.  Studies show improvements in memory, focus and decision making after time in nature.  One study found that after a 50 minute walk in nature, individuals performed 20% better on a memory test compared to those who walked through urban environments.  Other research shows nature can restore directed attention, improve pattern recognition and boost creativity.

In conclusion, Shinrin-Yoku and spending mindful time in nature provides tremendous benefits for both physical and mental health.  From boosting immunity to enhancing mood and cognition, forests have a powerful healing effect.  In today's world full of distractions and stress, spending time in nature is more important than ever for our well-being.  Even taking short walks in natural surroundings a few times a week can help combat disease and support health and happiness.  While further research is still needed, the proven benefits of Shinrin-Yoku make a compelling case for spending more time outside and unplugging in a forest.

The Healing Power of Forests: Understanding the Benefits of Shinrin-Yoku