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The Art of Shinrin- Yoku:

JAPANESE FOREST BATHING

Author: Rose D.

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The Art of Shinrin-Yoku, directly translates to"Forest Bathing" or "taking in the forest atmosphere" in Japanese. It was developed as a response to the rise of chronic diseases among Japanese urban dwellers.

In the 1980's, the Japanese government discovered a rise of chronic diseases due to the advent of rapid urban and industrial advancement, and the subsequent lifestyle changes that resulted. In an effort, to improve the health and longevity of Japanese citizens, a concerted effort to study the causes, correlations and possible preventive public health measures ensued.

These studies would later be the basis for the formation of preventative health initiatives and a cornerstone of public health in Japan for the future to come. Among those initiatives was the development of Forest Therapy, Shinrin-Yoku, a term developed by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982.

It was developed through studies conducted by Dr. Qing and colleagues, which found that time spent in the forest have profound physiological and psychological effects. Some of the results of the studies have shown that the practice of Shinrin-Yoku aids in the reduction of blood pressure, lowers cortisol levels and improve cognition, concentration & memory by boosting the immune system, and improving the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. 

Dr. Qing Li, MD, PhD, is a doctor of Chinese descent who emigrated to Japan in 1988 to study advanced Japanese medicine. He is a Physician and Immunologist at Nippon Medical School hospital and faculty member at its conjoining medical school in Tokyo, Japan. As a foremost expert and leader on forest medicine, he is a founding member and chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine; and member of the Task Force of Forests and Human Health. He is the vice president and secretary general of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine (INFOM), the president of Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, and the vice-president of International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine and one of the directors of Forest Therapy Society in Japan.

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The empirical data from Dr. Qing Li et al, study starting in 2005, have prompted several field studies. Dr. Li's studies have focused primarily on the effects of forest bathing and its physiological effects, notably an increase in Human Natural Killer cell activity for its intracellular anti-cancer protein enhancing effects. Dr. Qing Li found that compounds called phytoncides, emitted by forest plants and trees, which contributes to the "aroma" of the forest are both antimicrobial yet volatile organic compounds. Dr. Qing Li found that the immune boosting effects lasted 7 days post forest bathing. 

In 2018, Dr. Qing Li published a book aptly titled, "Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness" highlighting his research and its applications. The book was translated in North America and the UK the same year. The growing interest in Forest Bathing and Nature therapy is a relatively niche phenomenon. However, it's application has grown worldwide spearheaded by naturopathic and alternative medicine circles, though many rural/indigenous cultures have always touted the effects of spending time in nature and even honoring nature as a part of their cultural heritage, this is the first time empirical data has been used to understand the effects of nature on human health and wellness.

Forest Bathing is a leisure activity meant to absorb nature, in fact, several of its hallmarks involve doing nothing at all. Its meant to encourage stillness and deep breathing the forest air, breathing in the aroma, absorbing the effects of phytoncides. Several studies highlight anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours in a forest can have an immune boosting effect lasting 7 days to a month, depending on the duration spent in the forest. It's effects have shown to increase white blood cell count, particularly Natural Killer Cell activity, the potent cellular activity that fights tumor and virus infected cells. 

Several associations have formed worldwide to address and formulate certified forest/nature bases with planned walks to make the therapy more accessible. None as unprecedented or on the scope of Japan currently, with about 62 certified Forest Bathing bases equipped with Doctors and Nurses available to administer care and write prescriptions.  In the United States and the United Kingdom, the interest in Forest Bathing is evident in local parks (state and national), nature reserves and arboretums have begun to market themselves as Forest Bathing locales. 

References:

 

[1] Li, Q, Kobayashi, Y., H. et al.  (2009). Effect of Phytoncide From Trees on Human Natural Killer Cell Function. 
                  International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, 22, 4: 951-959.

[2] Li, Qing (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health Preventative
                  Medicine, Volume 15: 9-17.

[3] Park, Bum Jin et al. (2010). Environmental Health Preventative Medicine,15:18-26.

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