Exploring forest bathing’s benefits and the benefits of getting outdoors for your mind, body, and skin!
We live in a world that is continually moving forward. We buy computers that have faster speed, we subscribe to social media that is instantly updated, and while all of this is exciting, it can also cause stress in many people. Throughout the events of 2020, many of us struggled to find ways to get outside, which has been recognized by science as vital to our mental health and well-being.
Isn’t exercising on a treadmill or reading a book enough to unplug and relax? It turns out, maybe not. It might be that getting physically and mentally healthy may have everything to do with actually being outside. Experts are becoming more and more aware about the benefits of outdoor exercise, including evidence that exercise does improve skin tone and vitality. Let’s explore this more.
Your mental health and stress
In quarantine and stuck in one location, many of us wrestled with a feeling of being trapped or isolated. Coping with our daily mental health was difficult, and any tips that I found online about bringing my life back to normal revolved around general tips, plus one very specific one: eating well, sleeping well, socializing as best we could, and getting outdoors. Why was getting outdoors so specific?
It turns out that going outside and exercising is the key to managing mental stress, reducing our blood pressure, and lowering cortisol levels. The simple act of being outside slows the brain, and eases feelings of being emotionally drained.
Even though we live in a technological world, the way that our minds work is not that far different than it was in the past. We were designed to forage food outdoors, by walking, bending, searching, and eventually by growing our own crops. These exercises kept us from becoming stiff - a feeling I know all too well from sitting all day in my office chair!
When we are outside, our mood can improve, and it is really difficult not to notice things like birds chirping, the feeling of a breeze on our skin, or feeling the dirt between your fingers or toes. Our senses are awakened in nature, and we are able to find mental focus, clarity, and at the same time, a sense of peace.
“All nature is doing her best each moment to make us well—
she exists for no other end. Do not resist her.
With the least inclination to be well we should not be sick.”
- Henry David Thoreau (1853)
Getting outdoors and skin health
As if getting outside for your mental and overall physical health was not enough, there is also the incredible correlation to skin health and the great outdoors. We have established that exercise does improve skin. When our skin comes into contact with sunlight, our skin enters into a process that activates the creation of vitamin D. This critical vitamin ties right into a healthy immune system and helps keep us from getting sick.
Not only does the sun help fight things like cancer, depression, heart attacks, and mental illness, but it also has a surprising side effect on skin: reduced cortisol levels. Stress and anxiety can cause hormonal changes in the body, resulting in hives, itching, thinning of the hair, and acne, amongst other skin ailments. As we spend time outdoors in the sun, our hormones become more balanced as cortisol levels are lowered, which equates to a reduction in stress hormones acting on the skin and a healthier complexion. Of course, always make sure you protect your skin with sunscreen so that the sun’s positives don’t get bogged down by its obvious negatives: sun damage!
The Japanese art of “Forest bathing”
What is forest bathing? Forest bathing, or “shinrin-yoku,” was coined by Mr. Tomohide Akiyama in 1982, as a way to reconnect with nature. He worried that people would become unbalanced with all of the emerging technology and that they would forget about the peace and beauty of nature. Also called “taking in the forest atmosphere,” the practice means returning to your five senses.
A study analyzing this method of communing with nature was conducted in 2010, and it found that “forest bathing” reduced stress and cortisol levels, and anxiety. It reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and improved mental function. Science backed up the study, and showed that the brain enters a semi-meditative state when surrounded by nature. Forest bathing benefits appear to be broad and only recently just being better understood.
People practicing this art of commuting with nature engage all five senses by:
Touch - feeling the earthwith their bare feet or fingers
Smell - Breathing deeply the air, flowers, and aromatherapy of the pine essential oil in the forest
Taste - Eat a non-toxic berry or chew on a piece of grass
Hear - Listen with eyes closed to the sounds of the wind, of birds, or branches creaking
See - The majestic trees, the dappling sunlight, and the bark of the trees
What’s more, the benefits of forest bathing are more than just getting fresh air. Did you know that there are natural chemicals secreted by evergreen trees, in particular, that are known as phytoncide? They are associated with our frontline immune system defenders. As far back as the 1800s, scientists and doctors conducted long-term studies on patients that were not locked inside hospitals, but were cared for in a forest setting, to amazing results! They credited the aromatherapy from the pine trees as part of the recovery.
Being in nature is certainly a lot more than just sitting outside or taking a jog through a park. If you can, seek out real natural spots, without pathways, where you can immerse yourself and your five senses in the natural world. This escape from our normal lives brings about a neurological change in the brain, that shows up as the same area that is tied into meditation and true peace. These may be the most unexpected forest bathing benefits. And, as we all know, meditation has been proven to have positive benefits for the body, mind and, I believe, our very soul.
Final thoughts on getting outdoors
Please remember that when we tell you that sunlight is good for you and will help your body with it’s vitamin D levels, we are not talking about lying in the sun for two hours! Doctors recommend closer to 15 to 20 minutes of sunshine to stimulate vitamin D. Our suggestion is to apply (and re-apply) sunscreen and bring a hat with you so that you can slow down the UV rays whenever you need to do so.
It’s also important to remember that being outdoors means being out in the elements. So make sure you include a moisturizing face cream in your skin care routine.
Also, remember that especially during the transition from winter to spring, you may have harsh winds or still have rain or even snow where you are. Please limit your time during harsh conditions and use care to dress properly and keep your skin moisturized. Strong wind can actually remove the protective cell layer from the outer surface of the skin, which is where we apply sunscreen, so make sure that you re-apply, and keep your moisturizer on so that your skin retains its moisture.
We hope you get a mental, physical, and skin-health break soon - outdoors, and hopefully near pine trees! Have you experienced the benefits of forest bathing? We would love to hear about it! I find forest bathing fascinating, and there are actually organizations that do getaway trips and organized locations for forest bathing. You can read more about it on the link below. To your good health!
Bye for now!
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