Forest Bathing: Understanding the Very Real Psychological Benefits of Nature

It will come as no surprise to anyone who enjoys spending time outdoors that being in nature has significant mental health benefits. The serene feeling of being surrounded by the natural world has been written about by countless authors, poets, and songwriters, captured by artists in paintings and photographs, and increasingly showcased in documentaries and docu-series. But did you know that there is increasing scientific evidence to suggest that we can benefit significantly by viewing nature as a form of therapy? 

In recent years, many researchers have been inspired by the Japanese practice of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, where people spend time in the forest deliberately to address feelings of fatigue and stress. Studies of this phenomenon have found that it can have an immense impact on well-being and help boost both mental and physical health. Below, we’ll examine the tradition of forest bathing and detail some of the practical benefits this practice has for our general health.

What is Forest Bathing (Shinrin-Yoku)?

Forest bathing is a relatively new tradition in Japan that emerged as a practice in the 1980s. It  was invented to address the tech-boom burnout that was affecting many people living in Japan at the time and to encourage people to reconnect and engage more deeply with the natural forests and landscapes of the country. It quickly gained popularity and was widely embraced by many people across the country.[1] 

Forest bathing is about more than just spending time in nature: it is a form of ecotherapy that encourages a deep connection with the natural environment. While it traditionally takes place in a forest, it can be enjoyed in any wilderness environment, including a national or state park, protected lake area, or even a city park full of trees. 

Dr. Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, has noted that the natural spaces of our world hold an abundance of wealth for us and our well-being: “The sounds of the forest, the scent of the trees, the sunlight playing through the leaves, the fresh, clean air – these things give us a sense of comfort. They ease our stress and worry, help us to relax and think more clearly.”[2]

Forest Bathing and Mental Health

Since forest bathing became popular in Japan forty years ago, it has become an area of study for many scientists and psychologists seeking to better understand the relationship between mental health and nature. Some of the results of these studies have been startling.

For example, a study of 155 Japanese forest bathers conducted between 2012 and 2014 found that standard psychological indicators such as tension, anxiety, fatigue, dejection, and anger were all significantly reduced over the course of the forest bathing sessions. However, even more interestingly, the study also found that most participants’ circulation and blood pressure improved after each individual session.[3] All of these benefits resulted from just two hours of slowly walking through the forest, either in the autumn or the spring.  

These results are not isolated. Over 200 studies have shown that forest bathing has had a massive impact on countless aspects of health. Spending just two hours appreciating and connecting with a natural environment can remarkably improve: 

  • Metabolism
  • Cardiovascular function
  • Immunity
  • Emotional state
  • Attitude
  • Feelings towards others
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

It has also been shown that forest bathing can significantly improve both physical and psychological recovery processes.[4]

How to Forest Bathe

Forest bathing is as simple as it sounds: the key is really just to be in the forest or another natural environment for a significant amount of time. There are, however, a few important things you can do to ensure that you feel connected to the nature around you to get the full benefit of shinrin-yoku.

  1. Turn off your phone: This is an obvious one, but being on your smartphone while in the forest is not the same as being in the forest. Our devices benefit us in many ways, but they distract us from the world around us, which defeats the purpose of forest bathing. 
  2. Get as far away from human infrastructure as possible: Not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to the type of pristine forest used in many of the studies of forest bathing, but you don’t need to be in the middle of nowhere to reap the benefits of nature. Finding a spot that is peacefully removed from the hustle and bustle of buildings, streets, and cars works just fine, too.
  3. Use all of your senses. The idea behind forest bathing in the original tradition is to connect with the forest through all of your senses. Use your hands to touch the trees, inhale deeply to smell the fragrances of the natural world, and drink the environment in with your eyes. Being connected physically will help you connect emotionally and derive the psychological benefit of this practice.

Mental health and well-being are complex, lifelong projects. One important way to ensure that you are looking after yourself is to get outside and be in nature, and forest bathing is a wonderful way to connect with the natural world.


[1] Fitzgerald, S. (2019) The secret to mindful travel? A walk in the woods. National Geographic. Oct 18.

[2] Li, Q. (2018) ‘Forest Bathing’ Is Great for Your Health. Here’s How to Do It. Time. May

[3] Furuyashiki A, Tabuchi K, Norikoshi K, Kobayashi T, Oriyama S. (2019) A comparative study of the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku) on working age people with and without depressive tendencies. Environ Health Prev Med. Jun 22;24(1):46. doi: 10.1186/s12199-019-0800-1. PMID: 31228960; PMCID: PMC6589172.

[4] Wen, Y., Yan, Q., Pan, Y. et al. (2019) Medical empirical research on forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku): a systematic review. Environ Health Prev Med 24, 70.

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