Forest Bathing is a Revitalizing Walk in the Woods

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The American Psychiatric Association’s Healthy Minds poll surveyed more than 2,200 U.S. adults early last December, comparing the results to a similar poll conducted in December 2021. While the results are not exactly shocking, they certainly are reason to take pause – especially since 26% of the respondents said they expected to experience more stress in 2023, up from 20% the previous year. 

In that same study, approximately 37% of adults — about two out of five — described their mental health as “fair or poor,” up from 31% just one year ago. Between current economic uncertainties, layoffs and — let’s face it — post-pandemic PTSD, it’s no wonder.  

Add in a major move and, well, you get the picture. To help ease that pressure, we have covered ways to help manage moving stress, minimize new job stress and even suggested ways a full-service move can help you buy back precious time. After all, nobody likes packing and unpacking, right? 

But how do you truly manage the ongoing rigors of daily life, whether it’s during a move or upon settling in? 

The answer may lie in the woods, according to Dr. Qing Li, author of “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness,” (Viking, 2018); president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine; and one of Japan’s top forest bathing experts. 

Technology and the Pandemic 

“Nature deficit disorder” is a thing. When the coronavirus outbreak removed children’s access to outdoor spaces and playgrounds closed nationwide, parents noticed a marked change in children’s moods. Those symptoms ranged from increased irritation to trouble falling asleep, separation anxiety and depression. The National Institute of Health concurs. Its wide-reaching review of published studies noted an increase in negative mood, such as anxiety, depression, and stress due to the long-term lockdown. 

A term coined in 2005 when Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” was published, nature deficit order was underway before the pandemic hit. Louv notes that poor urban planning has led us to move further indoors. As social and technological changes over the past decades took hold, our disconnect from the natural world grew and grew.  

Louv argues that the explosion of electronic communications; fewer green spaces; an increase in street traffic; a reduced emphasis on the natural world in public and private schools; and parental fear, magnified by news and entertainment media, worsened the problem. 

But if one positive came out of the pandemic, it’s that people took a long, hard look at what they were missing. Getting outdoors felt like a luxury and this appears to have had a lasting effect. 

As we began to embrace outdoor beauty anew, a number of lifestyle trends have emerged. We certainly saw them in the in United Van Lines’ Annual 2022 National Movers Study. 

Traditionally, younger people were attracted to large cities, where they could set up their careers, explore diverse cultural and nightlife options, and “spread their wings” far away from small-town limitations. Yet, there was a notable post-pandemic move toward wide, open spaces and natural beauty. Moving closer to their families (35%), many chose to settle away from major urban centers and based their move preferences increasingly on personal versus professional reasons.  

Those moves have paved the way for communing with nature.  

What is Forest Bathing?  

In Japanese, “shinrin” means forest and “yoku” means bath. Yet, forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) does not involve bathing in the formal sense. Rather, it is the concept of mindfully immersing oneself in the forest, engaging with one’s natural surroundings and awakening one’s senses. 

So where did it all begin? 

In 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries began a national forest bathing program, appointing forest bathing reserves throughout the country. Today, Japan features dozens of official forest therapy trails, which are recognized by the Forest Therapy Society. A growing number of doctors are also certified to practice forest medicine. Meanwhile, the multi-day practice of forest therapy has led companies to send employees to the woods to restore themselves.  

Spending time under a canopy of trees can take many forms, regardless of where you live and when you do it. You might, for example, turn your cross-country move into a national park adventure

Lucky enough to have national parks close to your new home? Our national parks series can help plan the perfect paths. Find yourself nearer to state parks or other green spaces? Our Moving to Another State guides brim with outdoor ideas — and more. In short, nature is calling your name. 

Forest Bathing Today 

Let’s be honest — you don’t need a guide, studies or anything else to tell you nature soothes your soul. You can feel it.  

Still, it’s no wonder nature studies — and studies on forest bathing — are underway. The practice has since expanded beyond Japan into South Korea, throughout Asia and into the West. 

In Oakland, California, for example, a pediatric doctor is developing a park prescription program for her patients. Meanwhile, the University of Washington’s EarthLab is studying the link between human health and time spent outdoors.  

REI is even helping the cause, investing in efforts by UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital’s Center for Nature and Health, Sierra Club, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and the Oregon Public Health Institute. The goal? To better understand how time outside impacts anxiety levels, the ability to focus, childhood development, happiness and other health factors. 

The Benefits of Forest Bathing

There are many health benefits to immersing yourself in nature.  

For one thing, forests have a higher concentration of oxygen than urban settings. Additionally, plants have chemicals called phytoncides. These natural oils are part of a plant’s defense system against bacteria, insects and fungi. Since evergreens — pine, conifer, spruce and cedar — produce the most phytoncides, Li suggests strolls through these landscapes offer the greatest benefits of all. 

Li argues exposure to these substances helps reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower the heart rate. Since levels of harmful hormones — like cortisol — are produced when you’re stressed, forest bathing can also help reduce stress hormones, putting you in a calmer, more relaxed state. 

Want to learn more about the practice and benefits of getting outdoors? Here is some further reading on forest bathing: 

Moving can be stressful, so why not let professional movers at United Van Lines do the heavy lifting for you? United’s full-service moving packages provide flexibility to mix and match the services our customers need, from packing and unpacking to standard furniture placement.  

Get a quote from United Van Lines today.  

Do you need help settling in? Check out our other blogs for moving tips and packing advice, as well as city guides and a wealth of other helpful, time-saving information.

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