Amazon recently opened new offices that resemble a rainforest and are completely covered in 40,000 plants. Why? Not just for aesthetic reasons, but because the forward-thinking company is well aware of all the research that shows spending time in nature is good for our attention, creativity, and mood.
But according to a new book titled Forest Bathing that's out in April, the benefits of spending time among trees are even greater than even these impressive benefits. Forests don't just affect us mentally, they affect us physically as well. Trees are basically a wonder drug, argues the author Qing Li.
If nature was a pill, you'd rush to take it.
The book is a scientific exploration of the Japanese practice of "forest bathing," or spending extended periods in natural environments to boost health and well being. The term can sound a little woo-woo at first, but as Li, a doctor and chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, explains, the idea is anything but New Age nonsense.
Among the giant pile of evidence for the healing power of nature collected by Li are these research-backed facts:
Trees release antimicrobial essential oils that can produce slightly narcotic effects, and sometimes even act as a mild antidepressant. (Strangely, even just smelling dirt has been shown to have mood-boosting powers.)
Hospital patients who have a view of nature from their rooms recover faster.
Studies show spending time among trees boosts the number of "killer cells" in the immune system that are key to beating infections and fighting cancer.
Spending time in forests also reduces blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Now, imagine I told you there was a pill out there which, with absolutely zero side effects, could give you a slight positive buzz, help you avoid cancer and annoying colds, reduce your stress, and help your heart health? What would you pay for this miracle drug?
The answer is probably quite a lot. And drug companies, if they had such a medicine, would happily oblige by charging you an arm and a leg for it. But fortunately, nature isn't patented by big pharma and, therefore, accessing this profound health booster involves nothing more difficult or expensive than a trip to you nearest park.
An exact prescription for an ideal forest bath.
What should you do there? As little as possible. "Forest bathing isn't the same thing as hiking or brisk walking," Quartz reports in an article that breaks down Li's prescription in exhaustive detail. "Aimlessness is advisable."
Simply wander and open all your senses to the beauty around you -- listen to the sounds of nature, sniff the scents of the forest, even reach out and touch the trees around you. The experience of awe this often induces has been shown to have profoundly positive effects on our psychology.
And how about dosage? How long do you need to spend among the trees? "Li might ask, 'How long have you got?'" responds Quartz. "Weeks of forest bathing would be fantastic. But four hours is also great, and two hours will more than do. In fact, he thinks we can benefit from spending just a few minutes watching a single tree." And if you can't get out of the office for your regular dose of green, even just listening to nature sounds can soothe the body and mind.
Are you buying the health benefits of forest bathing?