Sunday, December 22, 2013

Forest Bathing Shinrin-Yoku

Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing is a Japanese concept about the health benefits of a walk in the woods. A forester from the coastal rain forests of British Columbia might picture forest bathing as an inadvertent bath resulting from walking through wet forest undergrowth on a rainy day. Pouring water out of your boots at the end of the day gives a rather literal interpretation to "forest bathing".

Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing is about getting out to the woods to experience a forest environment. Forest bathing is not just about the exercise, recreation and the more natural and aesthetic environment of the forest. There are therapeutic and health benefits and the Japanese have been conducting scientific studies to measure and understand them. Studies are being conducted in other countries and the effects of forest environments on human health are expected to be verified. Improvement in the immune system and lowered bio-markers associated with stress have been identified. Psychological studies show reduction in scores for anxiety, depression and anger. While the benefits are probably a composite response from exercise and a natural environment, studies also show that volatile organic compounds from the trees may also help to boost the immune system.

Japanese culture has always placed emphasis on the natural and aesthetic, and that may have influenced the shinrin-yoku concept. Forests often occupy hilly terrain because flat-lands tend to be used for agriculture. The forest hiking trail is likely to climb uphill and that provides additional exercise along with addition work by the core body muscles in maintaining balance on a trail versus a sidewalk. Exercise has health benefits and improves mood and the immune system. Exercise is good for you and at least according to the Japanese, probably even better if you get your exercise in a forest.

My daughter has an autism spectrum disorder. Autism is not well understood, but increased sensitivity to sensory stimulation is combined with anxiety and hyper-activity. The best solution has been a daily hike in the forest. We walk about eight kilometers, up and around a hill that is a forested Provincial Park. We do this everyday, because nothing else works as well.

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