I ring my bicycle bell in my most polite tone as I approach a dog-walker from behind. Nothing.
A little more stern this time. ‘Please be aware I am approaching from behind’ my bell implies. Again, nada.
‘DING DING DING DING!!!’
The tone is a little frustrated now. ‘Oi, I don’t want to run over your previous little furball, so please keep her under control’ sternly orders my bell. You guessed it, no response.
I slow to a crawl as I pass, narrowly avoiding muffin/precious/schnookums as she lurches across the path towards an intriguing smell.
‘Oh sorry’ exclaims the walker, as he jumps to his left, jerking fluffy over with him. ‘I didn’t hear you!’.
Well of course he didn’t. He couldn’t. He has an earphone in each ear, listening to his favourite true-crime podcast, or Cold Chisel playlist. He was completely oblivious to my approach. This makes me upset. It’s not anger at the slight inconvenience it caused, nor the mere seconds it added to my commute. I am certainly glad I didn’t mash teddy into the pavement. I’d never forgive myself if I hurt a dog whilst riding my bike regardless of my degree of culpability. It upsets me as this individual is leaving a massive spectrum of potential health benefits on the table by occupying one of their senses with something other than the sounds of nature all around them.
A practice that the Japanese refer to as ‘Shinrin-Yoku’, or Forest Bathing has been heavily scrutinised by Health Science Researchers in recent years. And the findings are impressive. There is good evidence indicating that Forest Bathing Therapy can yield the following metabolic and mental health benefits:
- Reduced blood pressure.
- Reduced resting heart rate.
- Improved heart rate variability.
- Reduced cortisol and adrenaline levels.
- Reduced triglycerides and increased adiponectin (both good things for those struggling with body weight).
- Improved immune, inflammation and antioxidant indexes.
- Increased high alpha and high beta brain waves (indicating both increased relaxation and increased attention).
- Reductions in stress, anxiety, depression and anger.
(Kotera et al, 2020; Wen et al, 2019).
So what the hell is ‘Forest Bathing’?
The study designs across the papers differ slightly in some of the specifics- but the most common features of a Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest Bathing are; gentle walking in a forest or nature space, and engagement with and attention to multiple senses during this experience.
Put simply, you can enjoy immense benefits across a broad spectrum of health measures by simply removing your earbuds, switching off your phone and engaging your eyes, ears, nose, even touch during a short, gentle walk in a green space. If you want to sit in a park and scroll through your newsfeed, or walk along listening to some mental junk-food podcast, you should not expect the benefits outlined earlier.
Listen to the birds, watch the breeze gently moving the leaves, smell the fresh air, feel the bark of a tree. I know this sounds like new-age tree-huggery, but it is founded on a bedrock of science.
I encourage you to try this. You might just hear me say ‘hello’ if we cross paths in the Greenspace.