What is forest bathing?
Is it just me, or are we hearing a lot about 'forest bathing' these days? The first time I heard about this was while reading a book that my cool nature-loving cousin Sophie gave me called Your Brain on Nature. Then I read about it in a reading for a public health policy course I'm taking as an evidence-based treatment for various mental health conditions in Japan. Just a few days ago I was flipping through channels on TV and say they were discussing this on The Doctors TV show! I am so happy that such a key piece of (sometimes forgotten) wisdom about wellness is becoming mainstream again.
In family medicine, I see people every day who are stressed out, run down and overwhelmed. We live in an age where everyone is posting about how great things are in their lives on social media, which can be isolating when you feel like you're the only one not holding it together. Well I have a secret for you - it is an epidemic and it is affecting everyone! We are like wild animals living in captivity. We're out of our natural habitat (trading nature for cities and fresh air for indoor air), we're not eating our natural diet (trading whole foods for processed ones), we sit when we should walk, we worry when we should relax, and we drink caffeine instead of getting enough sleep. And then we wonder why we feel like crap! If you ask someone if it would be better for a little kid to be inside all day or get to play outside, most people would say play outside. But if you ask people if they prioritize that for themselves, the answer is usually no. At what age do we stop needing nature?
Scientists at Chiba University in Japan found that walking in a forest leads to a significant decrease in the stress hormone cortisol compared to urban walks. Subjectively, the study subjects reported less anxiety and improved mood. Forest bathing has also been associated with lower blood pressures, and increased levels of certain key immune cells.
Some of my favourite places to go nature walk in and around Toronto are:
- the Evergreen Brickworks
- the Scarborough Bluffs
- the Beltline
- Dundas Peak
How about you? Where do you like to get out and into nature, in Toronto and elsewhere?
Let me know in the comments below!