Even the romantic notion of ‘forest bathing’ may have a scientific basis. Research indicates it could be the ‘phytoncides’ given off by the trees as a defence mechanism, that offer health benefits. Phytoncides are organic compounds (present in many plants, including garlic and onions) which have powerful antibacterial properties. Other studies show that the ‘aerosols of the forest’, when inhaled, may cause heightened ‘NK’ (Natural Killer) cells in the immune system (helping our bodies’ natural defences).
Science is now starting to indicate links to what we intrinsically know, that spending time in nature is good for us. Studies are showing links to not just emotional wellbeing and improved mood, but also to feelings of calm and empathy, and even to physiological benefits such as reduced blood pressure, muscle tension and lowering of stress hormones such as cortisol, reduced risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
There is even a ‘magic number’ – with studies indicating that benefits are seen after at least two hours a week spent immersed in natural settings. After that, the benefits extend even beyond the individual – with links to greater “community cohesion” and benefits such as lowered crime rates.