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The Benefits of Forest Bathing

Is today’s high-tech world moving a bit too fast for you? Is it possible that leaving your smartphone behind and taking a simple stroll through the woods can improve your mood, boost your energy level and help relieve the stress and anxiety that are dragging you down?

Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, has been helping people in Japan slow down and enjoy life a little more for several decades. Now its popularity is growing in the United States, raising the possibility that medical professionals in this country might someday prescribe forest bathing for their stressed-out, overworked patients.

Americans can certainly use a connection to Nature and a break from their electronic devices. According to a recent study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend 87% of their time in enclosed buildings and another 6% in vehicles.

Forest bathing isn’t all about intense exercising or hiking through the woods. Instead, it is simply distancing yourself from your hectic life and using all five of your senses to connect with Nature. Some people combine their time in the forest with yoga, hot-spring therapy, meditation, aromatherapy, art classes or breathing exercises, while others simply stroll aimlessly among the trees, touching plants, observing colors and patterns and breathing deeply. Regardless of how you choose to assimilate with Nature, forest bathing can help you become a happier, healthier and more well-balanced person.

If you think simply taking a deep breath of clean forest air will make you feel better, you are probably right. Forest bathing increases your energy level, fights fatigue and even activates hormones that will give you a better night’s sleep. The result is that you probably will be in a better mood during and long after your forest bathing experience, which is good news for you and the people around you.

Walking through the woods, gazing at the sky and listening to the sound of birds singing all are excellent ways to slow your life down, but the forest offers ways to enhance your physical well-being as well. For example, terpenes — hydrocarbons found in plants, especially in conifirs and citrus trees — have been found to be effective against an array of health issues, including osteoarthritis and joint, back and neck pain. Terpenes also have been shown to help fight inflammation in the liver and pancreas, and it’s possible that they go a long way toward protecting you against degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

In addition, forest bathing can help with common non-hereditary causes of heart attacks such as high blood pressure and increased pulse rate, and a walk in the woods might pump up your body’s level of adiponectin, a protein hormone that fights inflammation and therefore can reduce your risk of a heart attack. Adiponectin can give you another weapon in the fight against obesity, and it can regulate blood glucose levels, even if you are already suffering with diabetes.

Forest bathing might just be what you need to revitalize your physical and mental health and well-being — or maybe you simply need additional help to cope with and enjoy life. To learn more about the issues that affect your mind and body, contact the Montana Psychiatry & Brain Center. You can visit mtpsychiatry.com or call 406-839-2985.

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