Engaging with nature offers a compelling pathway to enhance mental health and overall psychological well-being, supported by scientific insights. Dr. Qing Li, a professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo and the president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, shared with NPR’s Life Kit the profound benefits of a practice known as “forest bathing” or shinrin-yoku, particularly in a forest environment.

Originating in the 1980s, forest bathing is a Japanese term emphasizing the therapeutic effects of spending time in the woods. Practitioners attest to reduced stress, strengthened immune systems, and elevated levels of anti-cancer proteins. Dr. Li emphasized the biological need for humans to connect with nature, underscoring that the duration of exposure amplifies the positive effects.

The key mechanism behind the benefits of forest bathing lies in inhaling chemicals released by trees, beyond the well-known process of trees purifying the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen. Dr. Li explained that trees release phytoncides, described as “antimicrobial allelochemic volatile organic compounds emitted by plants to defend against decay or attack by herbivores.” Inhaling these phytoncides has been linked to reduced stress levels and increased anti-cancer proteins.

To substantiate these claims, Dr. Li conducted scientific experiments using concentrated essential oils from Japanese cypress trees. Test subjects exposed to these oils exhibited more pronounced health benefits compared to those who were not. This research underscores the therapeutic potential of nature’s compounds.

The positive impact of spending time outdoors on mental and physical health has been further corroborated by various studies. A 2020 study in Singapore revealed that individuals engaged in community gardening reported significantly higher levels of subjective well-being. Parameters such as perceived stress, well-being, self-esteem, optimism, and openness were notably enhanced through outdoor communal activities.

In a world increasingly dominated by digital interactions, the call to reconnect with nature becomes a scientifically supported remedy for cultivating a healthier and more balanced mental state. Forest bathing stands as an accessible and natural prescription for the well-being of mind and body.

By Impact Lab