Do you need a bath?
Oh, no, sorry, not that kind of bath! I meant a forest bath.
Wait, you don’t know what forest bathing is? It’s when you take short, slow, contemplative walks through the forest to appreciate things you can only experience when moving slowly. Sounds pretty nice, right?
The practice of forest bathing was first developed in Japan in the 1980s. There they call it Shinrin-yoku, which translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.”
It works too. The physical and psychological benefits of forest bathing are pretty astounding. Scientists have found that forest bathing can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, decrease stress levels, elevate your mood, increase working memory and even bolster your immune system. That’s right — all just by taking a pleasant walk through the trees.
What I found most interesting about forest bathing is the research conducted by Quing Li, a professor at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo. He measured the activity of natural killer cells (blood cells that destroy other infected or cancerous cells) in the immune system before and after exposure to the forest. Li’s subjects showed significant increases in killer cells the week following their visit to the forest, bolstering their immunity.
So, where did this boost in immunity come from? Li’s research suggests these increases in the killer cells come from an element called “phytoncide.” It’s basically an oil that trees and even some vegetables emit to protect themselves against bugs and insects. Li’s research suggests that breathing phytoncide is what increases the level of killer cells and improves immune system function. Turns out the fresh forest air doesn’t just smell good, it can give boost your immune system too.
Ready for your bath now?
We’re lucky in the Bay Area to have so much open space, so many places to escape and clear our minds. There are a few preserves, however, that POST has protected that are particularly great for a forest walk. Here are the top three that we think you’ll find especially restorative:
Meander through towering redwoods along a creek in a quiet forest. Click here for hike information.
Enjoy a scenic path through redwood, oak, madrone and Douglas-fir trees. Click here for hike information.
This beautiful redwood preserve is just three miles from Los Gatos and contains six miles of trails to explore. Click here for hike information.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 80,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more