Vancouver forest bathing tours aim to improve health, reduce stress

Researchers at UBC say getting outside and immersing yourself in a forest can have real health benefits. As Angela Bower explains, forest bathing can alleviate stress and improve your mood.

Researchers at UBC say getting outside and immersing yourself in a forested landscape can help alleviate stress and improve mood.

Tara Brown, a PhD candidate in the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Forestry, guides forest bathing tours in Vancouver and encourages people to engage all of their senses, while slowing down and staying present among the trees.

She says the chemicals emitted by trees in the forest, called phytoncides, can provide health benefits when inhaled.

“You’re taking in the forest atmosphere and bathing in these phytoncides,” she said.

Through her research at UBC, she investigates how these phytoncides can change the physiological response of cells in our bodies.

“White blood cells are travelling around our bodies seeking out possible tumour cells… by inhaling some of these phytons, these chemicals can increase the activity of these natural killer cells,” she explained.

Brown’s research focuses on Japanese exploration of the benefits of some trees, like one native Japanese tree which is known to increase the body’s immune system and reduce stress.

She says the research into nature-based health was first introduced in Japan in the eighties when the country was experiencing a technological boom and there was a shift from living in the countryside to big, concrete cities.

“It was causing a lot of stress as they were trying to adapt to this new life on computers, and people were showing up in hospitals stressed out,” she said.

In 1982 the Japanese Minister of Forestry created a term that describes making contact and taking in the atmosphere of the forest.

“He coined the term Shinrin-yoku, which means sea-bathing, but in the forest,” Brown said.

Now, Brown provides guided tours and hopes to spread Japanese holistic medicine in the West.

Brown says through her guided tree bathing experiences, participants have complained about how noisy some trails were. Now, she’s partnering with Metro Vancouver to establish “silent trails in the city.”

“It’s a new type of trail where we are asking people to be quiet. Its really simple, so people can enjoy the soundscape in the trails, and listening to the birds, water and leaves rustling.”

Brown says she hopes the silent trails will be established before the summer so park goers can forest bathe in peace.

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