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Science Finds That “Forest Bathing” Can Really Make Us Mentally Healthier

Science Finds That “Forest Bathing” Can Really Make Us Mentally Healthier

What is Forest Bathing?

Forests have always held a special place in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. In 1982, the Forest Agency of Japanese government initiated shinrin-yoku, a national public health program. Its objective is to encourage Japanese residents to get involved with nature and to expose their bodies and minds to the overhead tree canopy. This eco-therapy is relatively simple as the goal is to accomplish nothing. When forest bathing, there is no need to hike or run. The focus is on merely roaming about the forest, taking it all in, and breathing.

The notion that time spent in the forest results in improved physical and mental health is not new, but rather rooted in many ancient customs and traditions. Today, however, research has backed up these claims. Some of the proven benefits of forest bathing include reduced production of the stress hormone cortisol, boosted levels of happiness, and an increased ability to focus and concentrate.

The Effects Of Forest Bathing On Cortisol Levels

One Japanese study, conducted under Institutional Ethical Committee of the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute regulations, set out to measure the effects of forest bathing on cortisol levels. Researchers gathered 280 subjects and identified 24 forests for testing. Each experiment involved groups of 12 individuals walking through and viewing either forests or urban areas.

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Cortisol measurements were taken at the research facility in the mornings before breakfast, before and after walking, and before and after viewing. The test took place over 2 days. On the first day, the group was split between urban and forest settings and on the second day, they switched locations.

Results indicated that forest exposure led to lower concentrations of cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as reduced blood pressure and heart rate.

Other Positive Psychological Effects Were Proven

Other research has indicated that forest bathing has positive psychological effects. In this study, researchers utilized the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Scale and the Multiple Mood Scale, which measures depression, friendliness, boredom, hostility, liveliness, and well-being.

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498 volunteers participated over a span of 2 days. On the first day, they answered the surveys twice after forest exposure. The second day was a control in which participants responded to the surveys in a controlled environment.

Results concluded that, after forest bathing, hostility and depression decreased while liveliness increased. Interestingly, the findings indicated that the effect was greater on higher levels of stress. This research suggests that forest bathing can be beneficial as a stress reduction tool which may, in turn, reduce the risk of psychosocial stress-related diseases.

It Can Also Boost Your Immune System

Yet another benefit of forest bathing is that it boosts immune system functioning. Several studies have shown an increase in Natural Killer cells (NK cells) after exposure to forests and phytoncide, an essential oil derived from wood.

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NK cells produce a rapid immune reaction against viral-infected cells and work to prevent tumor formation. These cells are able to identify, attack, and kill infected cells that lack major histocompatibility complex (MHC). Without MHC, detection of infections is missed by other cells, like T lymphocytes. Researchers, who had previously shown that NK cell production remains elevated in both men and women for longer than 7 days after a weekend forest trip, conducted another study in 2010.

This time, the researchers sought to measure the effects of a 1-day trip to the forest in male immune systems. Twelve volunteers participated in the study, walking for 2 hours in a forest in the morning and afternoon. Researchers took blood and urine samples prior to the trip and for 8 days following forest exposure. The findings indicated that NK cell and anti-cancer protein activity increased after the forest bathing experience. Tests of the forest air also identified a presence of phytoncides.

Get out of the city!

Armed with this information, it’s safe to say that you deserve a trip either out of the city or to a nearby forest park this weekend. Find a walk under the trees that is easy and preferably under 3 miles. Stroll slowly, take in your surroundings, and find somewhere to sit and think for a while. Practice deep breathing and remember, the goal is simply to spend time in the forest. You’ll come away feeling refreshed, relaxed, and more energetic!

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Featured photo credit: Ersi via Pixabay via pixabay.com

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Amber Pariona

EFL Teacher, Lifehack Writer, English/Spanish Translator, MPA

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How to Keep Yourself Awake at Work Without Caffeine

How to Keep Yourself Awake at Work Without Caffeine

Keeping yourself awake at work can be a real challenge when you’re bored, exhausted or sleep-deprived.

But before you reach for that can of Red Bull, bottle of Mountain Dew, or pot of coffee, try these healthy remedies to stimulate your 5 different senses and help you stay awake at work:

Sight – Visual Stimulation

The first thing you do when you wake up is opening your eyes, so your visual stimulation is very important to keeping your energy level high.

1. Maximize your exposure to light.

Your body’s internal rhythm is regulated by the amount of light you receive. The greater your exposure, the more alert you will feel.

Open the shades and let in the sunlight. Step outside or look out the window. Turn on all the artificial lights in your office or around your work space.

2. Exercise your eyes (or give them a break).

Roll your eyes up and down, side to side and diagonally. Rotate them clockwise and then counterclockwise. Squeeze them shut and then open them wide. Do this several times.

Reading and sitting in front of a computer screen for long periods can lead to eye fatigue.

Take regular breaks with deliberate blinking and looking out into the distance.

3. Take note of your environment.

Learn to enjoy people-watching. Observe their activities, speech, body language and interactions with others. Notice the details of building, trees and other objects around you, including their color, shape and size.

By doing this, you’re not only relaxing your eye muscles but also calming your mind.

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Hearing – Auditory Stimulation

What you hear or listen to have direct effect on your brain. This is why we feel so annoyed and sometimes angry when we hear construction noise when we’re working.

4. Engage in conversation.

Talk to a friend or colleague. Trade funny stories. Discuss your business venture, a creative idea, the latest political scandal, or any other topic that interests you.

Practice mindful listening to what you and the other person are saying. Tune into the tone, volume and content of the conversation.

Learn how to practice better listening from this guide:

Why Listen to Reply Instead of Understand Is the Key to Failure

5. Listen to upbeat music.

Try hip hop, rock or jazz to keep you alert. Instrumental, non-distracting music works best.

Sing, whistle, and hum along if you can. Plug in the earphones if you must.

Smell – Olfactory Stimulation

If you’re feeling sleepy and suddenly smell the coffee, you’ll probably feel more energetic. This is why smell is an influential stimulation.

6. Work your nose.

Aroma therapists recommend essential oils of peppermint (to boost energy), rosemary (to build awareness), eucalyptus (to increase oxygen), cedarwood  (to activate your mind), and cinnamon (to improve your reaction time).

If you don’t have essential oils on hand, you can use lotions or burning candles that provide the same scents.

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Citrus like lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges are also natural olfactory stimulants. Get a whiff of these citrus scents to stay awake.

Taste – Gustatory Stimulation

If you want an energetic day at work, you can’t let your tongue feeling plain and flavorless.

7. Have a good breakfast.

Start off with the most important meal of the day.

Think fresh, light and healthy: bran cereals, wholegrain breads, fruits, and yogurt.

Nix the heavy stuff like sausages, greasy eggs or pancakes.

Need some breakfasts inspirations? Check out these ideas:

20 Healthy Breakfast Choices That Will Save You Time

8. Drink lots of water.

Keep a glass or bottle of H2O near you and sip from it throughout the day. Dehydration can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and sleepy.

So make sure you drink enough water throughout the day. Not sure how much to drink? This can help you:

How Much Water Should You Drink Each Day (and How Much Is Too Much for You)

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Think that you’ve been drinking too little water? Try these friendly reminders:

3 Best Apps To Help You Drink Much More Water

9. Eat energy-boosting snacks.

Nuts and fruits (like bananas, apples and strawberries) are sure bets. Pairings with staying power include baby carrots with a low-fat cream cheese dip; celery sticks with peanut butter; red peppers with hummus; and plain yogurt with granola.

Avoid carb-filled, sugary snacks that make you crash and leave you feeling tired.

Here you can find some healthy snack ideas:

25 Healthy Snack Recipes To Make Your Workday More Productive

Touch – Tactile Stimulation

Last but not least, your sense of touch will make you physically feel more energetic and less stressful.

10. Splash cold water on your face.

Do this in the morning, during bathroom breaks and in the afternoon. Being exposed to cold water pushes your body to adjust and regulate its internal temperature, which in turn keeps you alert.

This works the same as you take a cold shower to increase mood and alertness. Take a look at this article to learn more about it:

5 Surprising Benefits of Cold Showers

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11. Use acupressure.

Apply pressure to, massage, or tap on the stimulation points of your body. These include the top of your head, the back of your neck, the back of your hand (between the thumb and index finger), just below the knee and your earlobes.

Watch this video to learn about the acupressure points you can try:

12. Get moving.

Move away from your chair and stand, walk, run or climb the stairs. Feel the earth under your feet. Stretch and twist. Do jumping jacks, lunges, push-ups and back bends.

And if you need to move more discreetly, wiggle your feet, bounce your knee up and down, scrunch your toes, or cross your legs.

You can also try some simple stretches and exercises at your desk:

Unlike addictive caffeine fixes, these remedies activate your senses, engage your attention, amp up your energy and prevent morning grogginess and afternoon slumps without the side effects or health risks.

Pick a few ways from this list of suggestions and practice them consistently. And when you do this consistently, you’ll soon see the positive results — a more energetic and productive you at work.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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