Soaking in Nature: The Benefits of Forest Bathing
Satellite photos of the earth reveal a majestic surface marbled in green and blue. On a micro level, though, the reality is that the greys of our urban areas are slowly spreading across this pristine globe. And, strangely enough, more and more of us are elbowing our way into that grey. According to the United Nations, over 54% of the world's population lives in an urban area, and by 2050 somewhere around 2.5 billion more people will crowd their way into cities.
The Plight of the Urbanite
It's no secret that living in an urban area has an impact on the health of an individual. A higher concentration of pollutants coupled with the stressors and demands of what's often a faster-paced life can have a negative affect on anyone immersed in city life. As such, forward thinking, urban-based organizations are experimenting with biophilic design, which incorporates aspects of nature into the workplace. This may take the form of indoor foliage, natural materials, or favoring natural light over halogens.
While these are noble and important efforts, though, they come up short. After all, the deck is stacked against indoor workers – studies by the EPA show that indoor air quality can be two to five times poorer than outdoor air. Meaning, something more must be done to help urban individuals thrive, not just survive. Enter Shinrin-yoku: the Japanese practice of forest bathing.
Taking to the Woods
Shinrin-yoku originated in Japan in the early 1980s as a way to address some of the urban stressors in a nation whose urban population density is tops in the world. Combine that with a work-first culture, and it's no wonder that the Japanese were pioneers in addressing the health issues inherent in the urban workplace. One important factor: despite their density, Japanese cities also have a remarkable amount of urban green space.
And therein they found a straightforward solution to urban stressors. "Forest bathing" (Shinrin-yokucan also be translated as "taking in the forest atmosphere") is as simple as entering and experiencing a greenspace. The longer the better, and the more leisurely your activity the better. In a word, stroll don't sprint. As Shinrin-yoku.org explains it, "The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved." And as more and more research on these benefits has piled up, the activity has spread further across the greying globe.
The Benefits of Forest Bathing
The popularity of forest bathing is spreading because, according to a growing gallery of research, it works. And its benefits are remarkably various. Here are just a few.
Lower stress.The inherent tranquility of forest bathing has been shown to lower cortisol, the stress hormone. This in turn lowers the risk or occurrence of certain ailments linked to cortisol release, such as anxiety, depression, and heart disease. In addition, regular forest bathing can help with the management of stress-induced conditions such as headaches, high blood pressure, and skin problems.
Stronger immune system.Lower stress and elevated mood usually corresponds a heightened immune system function. But there are other factors at work, too. As noted by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, "In a 2007 study, men taking two hour walks in the woods over a two day period exhibited a 50% increase in levels of natural killer cells – the body's disease fighting agents.” This is partly due to the pleasant setting and disconnection from the office, but it's also tied to the chemistry at work in the forest: "The natural chemicals secreted by evergreen trees, collectively known as phytoncide, have also been associated with improvements in the activity of our frontline immune defenders."
Increased creativity and cognitive function.Immersion in nature – and the temporary technological disconnection that ideally accompanies it – can also have a significant regenerative impact on your prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain tied to creativity and problem solving. In fact, a 2012 University of Utah study showed participants on a multi-day wilderness backpacking trip could complete nearly 50% more problem-solving puzzles than a control group. Even in shorter excursions, though, immersion in nature has been found to rejuvenate the brain's ability to think clearly, expansively, and creatively.
But this is just the beginning. Increased energy, improved sleep, and lower occurrences of certain diseases have all been linked to extended forest immersion. And that's beside the more anecdotal comments of many participants: increased happiness, more fulfilling relationships, and a deeper connection to the earth and life as a whole. All from a regular and relaxing walks in the woods.
Incorporating Forest Bathing into Your Workplace Experience
Unfortunately, many American cities do not feature urban forests – at least not to the degree that Japan's urban areas do – making it harder to reach the level of immersion that triggers forest bathing's most impactful benefits. That said, a regular stroll in an urban park is better than breathing recycled office air from eight to six every day. But it's not enough.
What if there were a way to get the full benefits of the forest – the elevated mood, the stress reduction, the immune-boosting phytoncide, the cognitive refresh, the overall revitalization – without a costly, time-consuming, productivity-halting company retreat to the woods? Well, there is. And it's exactly the kind of perk that wellness-minded individuals are looking for in a workplace experience. It's called Branches. And it brings your workplace to the woods.
Branches is creating hybrid spaces that are designed to re-energize employees and inspire them to do their best work. Located in stunning and revitalizing natural areas, Branches allows you to make forest bathing – and its myriad benefits – a regular part of your workplace identity. And the first location (slated to open in 2019) is only two hours from New York City, tucked into a peaceful valley in the Catskill Mountains, and easily accessible by car or public transportation.
Learn More About Branches
Forest bathing is so simple – almost primitive – so it's somewhat ironic that it and the wellness benefits it brings are part of the work experience of the future. More and more, employees are prioritizing personal wellness and work/life balance. They are seeing the value of activities like forest bathing as a means of mitigating the impact of their urban, indoor reality. As such, forward-thinking companies are prioritizing wellness as a way to attract and retain these health-savvy workers.
And they are learning that experiences like Branches are offering them a chance to have it all: a productive business and employees that feel both healthy and valued. Full company retreats at Branches – or visits by individual employees or small teams meshing wellness with their everyday work – will reinforce your company’s focus on work-life design, wellness, and exceptional employee experience.
If you're interested in increasing productivity while uplifting your current employees and attracting your top recruits, it's time we talked. Head to www.visitbranches.com to learn more or reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (833) 247-2642.