If spring 2020 has left you feeling a little stressed and overwhelmed, a popular Japanese practice may be just what the doctor ordered. Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is the term the Japanese use to refer to the practice of immersing yourself in a wooded area and taking time to take in the trees through your senses. While there are many reasons why spending time in a forest makes sense, here are four that make it a particularly perfect way to pass a few hours during a pandemic.

Forest Bathing Can Lower Stress

Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone. Like a built-in security system, it is what triggers your body’s fight or flight system. During times of high stress, having too much cortisol flowing through your system for too long can lead to a number of other health problems, including anxiety, depression, headaches, weight gain and sleep issues. Here’s the good news: research in Japan suggests that, compared to urban walks, leisurely forest walks yield a 12.4 per cent decrease in cortisol.

Give some tree time a try: Find a wooded trail to explore at one of Hamilton Halton Brant’s many conservation areas.

Forest Bathing Can Boost Your Body’s Immunity

Phytoncides are airborne chemicals emitted by plants and trees as protection against insects. When we spend time in nature, we breathe in Phytoncides. The antibacterial and antifungal qualities these compounds have that help plants fight disease also have an effect on our bodies. These chemicals send a message to our bodies to increase the number of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells. These natural killer cells help fight tumour- and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study, participants who had gone on a 3-day forest bathing trip had increased activity in their body’s natural killer cells for over a month!

Give some tree time a try: The Bruce Trail, Canada’s oldest and longest footpath, stretches through our region from Stoney Creek to beyond Georgetown, offering miles of tree-lined trail to explore.

Forest Bathing Can Improve The Quality of Your Sleep

If working from home, homeschooling, and the general stress of adapting to life during a global pandemic has wreaked havoc on your sleep patterns, time amongst the trees can help with that too. In one Japanese study, stressed-out Tokyo office workers who tended to struggle with sleep found that when they took a workday walk for the same amount of time in a forest instead of their usual non-forest walk they slept better and longer.

Give some tree time a try: Forest areas represent about one-third of the property at Burlington’s Royal Botanical Gardens. There are 65 different tree species on the grounds, including Red and White Oak, Black Cherry, Red Maple and White Cedar.

Forest Bathing Is An Easy and Affordable Activity

The economic uncertainty driven by a global pandemic means many people are watching their pennies a little more carefully. If you’ve downsized your spending for leisure activities, forest bathing is an excellent way to spend a few hours without spending a lot of money.

Give some tree time a try: The Six Nations of the Grand River Territory is home to Canada’s largest stand of Carolinian forest. The Six Nations Nature Trail has been carefully designed to allow visitors to experience this special place for themselves.

Chiefswood National Historic Site

How to Take A Forest Bath

  • To take in the full benefits of all the trees have to offer, aim to spend about two hours amongst the trees. If your local park doesn’t have an extensive wooded area, consider visiting one of Conservation Halton, Hamilton Conservation Authority or Grand River Conservation Authority’s.
  • Turn off your smartphone. Forest bathing is about taking in the woods with your senses, not taking pictures of the experience.
  • Your forest bathing experience doesn’t have to involve walking or hiking. You may choose to walk for a while and then simply sit quietly and soak in the forest through all your senses. Look at the trees, their leaves and branches and the wildlife in the woods. Touch the rough tree bark, the prickly needles and the soft leaves. Smell the scents of the woods. Take long, slow, deep breaths and notice how all of these details you may have overlooked in the past make you feel when you slow down and soak them all in.

As the COVID-19 situation continues to change, a minute or two of extra planning is an important step in ensuring your Forest Bathing experience is a success. Follow the latest travel guidelines for your community and any communities you plan to visit. Check with businesses and places you plan to go to ensure they are open and serving visitors in the way you’re expecting. Find out how you can support local businesses and taste a true close to home brew. Don’t forget to share pictures of your adventures with us by tagging them with #stayandplayinhhb.

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