Nature Decreases Stress & Boosts Your Immune System

by Ronna Schneberger


In the 1980s, Japanese doctors started prescribing a type of Forest Therapy called Shinrin Yoku, which means ‘bathing in the atmosphere of the forest’. Shinrin Yoku is prescribed to decrease stress, boost memory, and improve immune function.
Today, doctors in the US and Canada are starting to follow suit, and scientific studies not only show how it works, they also show why it works.
Researchers studying the Shinrin Yoku in Japan discovered that trees give off organic chemical compounds called phytoncides, which are like a natural bug spray for trees. As people bathe in the atmosphere of the forest, they take in these phytoncides through their skin and as they breathe. These compounds have a powerful list benefits to us, including reduced stress and improved memory.
Studies have shown that in a mere 15 minutes of forest walking, you can reduce your stress hormone, cortisol, by 12%. In two hours you can increase your memory and attention span by 20%. On top of that, participant blood pressure and heart rate lowered naturally.
To measure the impact on our immune system, researchers measured the activity of “Natural Killer” cells. These cells attack and take out damaged cells – they are your cancer and tumor fighting white blood cells. After three days of two hour forest walks, study participants experienced a 55% increase of their Natural Killer cells. What is even more impressive is it stayed this way for a whole month!
Time in the forest can also make you feel good. Researchers measured people’s moods after 15 minutes of walking in a park or arboretum and noticed a substantial improvement in their overall feeling of wellness compared to those who walked on city streets. This occurred during all times of the year and even if participants didn’t particularly like being outside. Those who were feeling high stress received a bigger boost to their scores.
Today, doctors like Susanne Bartlett, Associate Professor of Medicine at the John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, prescribe forest walks to patients. “I completely changed the way I practice medicine. I used to write 100-150 prescriptions per week, and now I write 2-3 per year. That’s not an exaggeration,” she says.
So, if you are feeling stressed and worn out, take two hours in a forest and experience the benefits yourself!