The Stress-Busting Benefits Of Shinrin-Yoku

vitamin d

time to connect with mother nature

Dr Jess says: I, like many others, crave being outdoors when I feel stressed or have been working at a computer too long. It doesn’t surprise me that the benefits of shinrin-yoku are so extensive, but it is a wonderful validation for the common advice we give patients to spend more time outdoors. 

New research shows these benefits are more pronounced in older woodland which makes me more concerned for the environmental destruction and building of roads, high-speed railways and houses that is going on around us, supposedly offset by planting ‘new’ trees. Studying Botany at university opened up a whole new world of understanding of the wonder of trees for me and made the film Avatar’s notion of a brain-like connection network between trees less the stuff of sci-fi and even more real. 

We all live in symbiosis with the natural world and it continually reveals its’ amazing potential to heal. Part of The Natural Doctors’ goals is to support the protection of nature’s diversity, to ensure it is still available for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy…

Shinrin-yoku means ‘forest bathing’, or taking in the forest atmosphere. It has been investigated for its health benefits by the Japanese since the 1980s. While most of us know instinctively that walking in natural environments, such as woods and forests can make us feel better, the research supporting this is fascinating!

mother nature

research shows that just 15 minutes1 of walking in the forest:

  • lowers blood pressure and heart rate
  • lowers cortisol levels (the hormone that is made when we are stressed)
  • helps trigger our relaxing parasympathetic nervous system
  • switches off our ‘fight or flight’ nervous system

when practising shinrin-yoku, a study showed that stress and depression scores decreased2 and energy scores increased3

Walking specifically in a forest environment (rather than in other outdoor areas), can also improve blood sugar in diabetics4 and can improve chronic (long term) neck pain.5 Shinrin-yoku has been shown to improve COPD lung disease and reduce inflammation.6 A three day stay in the forest significantly improved immune function and anti-cancer cell activity for more than 30 days afterwards!7,8 Maybe it’s time to unleash your inner Hansel and Gretel, and book that romantic cabin in the woods!

trees produce essential oils into the air

Some of the effects of the improvement in immune system function and anti-cancer cells may be due to the essential oils in woods, which can have the same effect when infused in our home.9 Conifer essential oils have been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate when inhaled.10 

essential oils in wood can stimulate our immune system and aid healing

As well as regular forest bathing, when it isn’t possible, why not add a couple of drops of essential oils like pine, cedarwood, cypress or fir to an essential oil diffuser, to both bring in the smell of the forest and feel its benefit in your home? Experiment with different combinations, to find one that you love. 

why are trees so healing?

They are the source of many medicines. Aspirin comes from willow bark, quinine from cinchona bark, yew trees give us a chemotherapy medication, and well-known natural remedies ginkgo biloba, tea tree oil and pycnogenol all come from trees.

trees reduce air pollution

A large study of city air pollution found that the reduction in particulate matter (pollution-like diesel fumes) was reduced in the air next to trees by 7-24%.11 Large, healthy trees were the most effective at removing pollution, with silver birches being particularly good at trapping pollution particles. 

green spaces with trees reduce stress levels

Just three minutes spent amongst trees has been shown to reduce stress levels and blood pressure.

healing forests

South Korea was so impressed by the research on the health impact of trees, that they established ‘healing forests,’ complete with qualified healing forest experts to help shepherd people into the forests for their wellness benefits.

trees help combat climate change

Climate change is being driven by increasing carbon dioxide levels. Just one single acre of trees can absorb as much carbon in a year to counter the pollutant effects of a car that has been driven 26,000 miles.12

Q&A:

Can you recommend some good tree-based essential oils or blends?

A diffuser with high-quality essential oils (we like Absolute Aromas) can create a feeling of the forest indoors. Atlas cedarwood is traditionally used for anxiety and burnout and is used for its rebalancing and lung-supporting properties. Siberian fir is a great accompaniment used by therapists to lift the mood, and as a restorative and muscle relaxant (two drops of each are a nice blend, with a drop of patchouli for added fragrance and soothing). Black spruce is used traditionally as an immune restorative and for adrenal stress and burnout, as well as to balance hormones. It is great in combination with scotch pine, which has similar long-standing uses. Put two drops of each in your diffuser. 

Does having plants at home benefit me in the same way?

Plants in the home have only been studied for air quality improvements (which is still an excellent reason to have houseplants). The mood-boosting and relaxing qualities of plants have not been assessed. There is something special about trees and woodland likely due to the essential oils and monoterpenes they produce in the air, but to reduce toxins and indoor air pollution, houseplants are an important additional tool.13 

references

  1. Tsunetsugu Y, Park BJ, Ishii H, Hirano H, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. Physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the atmosphere of the forest) in an old-growth broadleaf forest in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan J Physiol Anthropol. 2007 Mar;26(2):135-42. doi: 10.2114/jpa2.26.135. PMID: 17435356.
  2. Morita E, Fukuda S, Nagano J, Hamajima N, Yamamoto H, Iwai Y, Nakashima T, Ohira H, Shirakawa T. Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction Public Health. 2007 Jan;121(1):54-63. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2006.05.024. Epub 2006 Oct 20. PMID: 17055544.
  3. Mao GX, Lan XG, Cao YB, Chen ZM, He ZH, Lv YD, Wang YZ, Hu XL, Wang GF, Yan J. Effects of short-term forest bathing on human health in a broad-leaved evergreen forest in Zhejiang Province, China Biomed Environ Sci. 2012 Jun;25(3):317-24. doi: 10.3967/0895-3988.2012.03.010. PMID: 22840583.
  4. Ohtsuka Y, Yabunaka N, Takayama S. Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing and walking) effectively decreases blood glucose levels in diabetic patients Int J Biometeorol. 1998 Feb;41(3):125-7. doi: 10.1007/s004840050064. PMID: 9531856.
  5. Kang B, Kim T, Kim MJ, Lee KH, Choi S, Lee DH, Kim HR, Jun B, Park SY, Lee SJ, Park SB. Relief of Chronic Posterior Neck Pain Depending on the Type of Forest Therapy: Comparison of the Therapeutic Effect of Forest Bathing Alone Versus Forest Bathing With Exercise Ann Rehabil Med. 2015 Dec;39(6):957-63. doi: 10.5535/arm.2015.39.6.957. Epub 2015 Dec 29. PMID: 26798610; PMCID: PMC4720772.
  6. Jia BB, Yang ZX, Mao GX, Lyu YD, Wen XL, Xu WH, Lyu XL, Cao YB, Wang GF. Health Effect of Forest Bathing Trip on Elderly Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Biomed Environ Sci. 2016 Mar;29(3):212-8. doi: 10.3967/bes2016.026. PMID: 27109132.
  7. Li Q. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function Environ Health Prev Med. 2010 Jan;15(1):9-17. doi: 10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3. PMID: 19568839; PMCID: PMC2793341.
  8. Li Q, Morimoto K, Kobayashi M, Inagaki H, Katsumata M, Hirata Y, Hirata K, Shimizu T, Li YJ, Wakayama Y, Kawada T, Ohira T, Takayama N, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. A forest bathing trip increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins in female subjects. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2008 Jan-Mar;22(1):45-55. PMID: 18394317.
  9. Li Q, Nakadai A, Matsushima H, Miyazaki Y, Krensky AM, Kawada T, Morimoto K. Phytoncides (wood essential oils) induce human natural killer cell activity Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2006;28(2):319-33. doi: 10.1080/08923970600809439. PMID: 16873099.
  10. Chen CJ, Kumar KJ, Chen YT, Tsao NW, Chien SC, Chang ST, Chu FH, Wang SY. Effect of Hinoki and Meniki Essential Oils on Human Autonomic Nervous System Activity and Mood States Nat Prod Commun. 2015 Jul;10(7):1305-8. PMID: 26411036.
  11. Growth of city trees can cut air pollution, says report
  12. https://allthingssmallandgreen.org.uk/offsetting-your-carbon-emissions/tree-facts/
  13. Susanto AD, Winardi W, Hidayat M, Wirawan A. The use of indoor plant as an alternative strategy to improve indoor air quality in Indonesia. Rev Environ Health. 2020 Sep 14;36(1):95-99. doi: 10.1515/reveh-2020-0062. PMID: 32920542.
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