It may not get you clean, but “forest bathing” (or Shinrin-yoku, as it’s called in Japan) offers an impressive array of health benefits. Chief among them is its ability to reduce stress. As little as twenty minutes of “taking in the forest atmosphere” (in other words, simply being in the woods . . . ) has been shown to significantly lower levels of cortisol in the bloodstream. Some researchers have gone so far as to suggest that regular forest bathing may offer protection against cancer, depression, and dementia as well.
We’ll focus on the most compelling evidence, which is that a brief stroll in the forest . . . in some cases, merely gazing at a forest . . . can significantly lower your level of cortisol.
What’s cortisol? It’s the primary hormone your body produces when you’re under stress. Cortisol is often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” hormone–for good reason. Imagine you’re one of the earliest humans on earth. You’re wandering around a meadow blithely swatting at insects while you gather nuts and berries. Suddenly, you hear hoof beats and notice a wild boar charging at you! The instant you see the boar . . . before you consciously recognize the danger . . . your adrenal glands are releasing stress hormones into your bloodstream. Two of these hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, prepare you to either (a) fight the wild boar or (b) run from it. Adrenaline boosts your breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. Cortisol boosts your blood sugar. All of this gives you energy. Now you can run!!!!!
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