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Can “forest bathing” help reduce your stress?

With screen time rising and sleep quality plummeting, Canadians are experiencing an unprecedented epidemic of stress. Even during a sunny long weekend at the cottage, it can be tough to turn off your phone and disconnect from the stresses of life back in the city. But researchers say that time practicing the Japanese art of shirin-yoku—meaning “forest bath” or “absorbing the forest atmosphere”—could be one way to reduce stress levels while building a mindful connection with nature. Through forest bathing, it’s possible to improve our overall well-being simply by going for a walk outdoors and spending time among trees. 

That’s one more reason to take the Mazda CX-50 Minute Challenge this August, the goal of which is to get active in nature for 50 minutes, three times per week. What you do in those 150 minutes, and what you can gain, is up to you. 

The benefits of forest bathing

Forest bathing, which is also known as forest therapy, involves experiencing nature and the outdoors through your senses. Formally developed as a practice in the 1980s in Japan, where it was part of the country’s health program and considered preventive care, forest bathing has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce stress hormones. 

According to one study, a two-hour walk through a forest park offered multiple benefits compared to the same walk taken in an urban area. Other research has indicated that time spent in nature is not only relaxing and restorative, but it can also provide some therapeutic effects on the immune, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems. At a time when one in four Canadians are reporting high levels of life stress on most days, this simple and free practice could offer ample benefits to those who are able to get outside and immerse themselves in nature.  

What to know before you try

Forest bathing can be done year-round, in any location where there are trees. This form of nature or ecotherapy involves soaking your senses in a forest environment, and could include an hours-long hike in the woods or 50 minutes spent exploring your local nature reserve or park. You could do a forest bath solo, or go out with a group or certified guide for a more educational, structured experience. 

Keep in mind that it’s not an excursion that is meant to be physically demanding, there’s no special gear or equipment required, and even the shortest outings can offer some therapeutic benefits. In fact, participants in one Japanese study had decreased stress and heart rates after a 15-minute walk in a city park. 

Making the most of your forest bath

Before you start, leave your electronics behind. Or put away your headphones and turn off notifications on your phone and smartwatch. Once you are outside in the forested area, decide how much time you have for the practice and find a peaceful, treed path or trail to explore. Avoid any noisy areas or parks with heavy foot traffic.

This is a time to really immerse yourself in nature, and try to experience the woods with all five senses. During the walk, allow yourself to make stops and detours to explore the forest without worrying about your pace or progress along the trail. Close your eyes to see what you can hear and feel and smell in the environment. Feel free to touch plants or even hug a tree if you’re so inclined, and see what flora and fauna you can observe and identify. If you can find a good spot, a short meditation in the forest can feel very grounding, even just for a few minutes. 

Ready to spend more time in nature? Join the Mazda CX-50 Minute Challenge today and learn more about the new Mazda CX-50, at mazda.ca/en/CX50minutechallenge