“forest bathing” can improve mental and physical health

Men in recovery face many challenges as they work to rebuild their lives and achieve lasting sobriety. Dealing with ongoing stressors, triggers and cravings can take a toll on your mental health, but one strategy that’s gained attention for helping individuals improve and maintain their overall wellness is forest bathing, or spending time in nature to promote well-being.

At Choice House, we’re all about spending more time outdoors to enhance the recovery process. We know firsthand the benefits that fresh air, clear skies and wide open spaces can have on your mood and thinking, so we’ve made outdoor and nature-based activities like forest bathing an integral part of our treatment programs.

Forest bathing in particular has been found to have numerous positive effects on both mental and physical health, making it a uniquely valuable tool for men in recovery.

what is forest bathing?

The Japanese art of forest bathing, also called shinrin-yoku, involves spending time outdoors and immersing yourself in the natural world. It originated in Japan in the 1980s as a form of ecotherapy to combat the stress and anxiety of modern urban life, but the concept is not new — forest bathing and similar techniques have ancient roots that date back much further.

Throughout history, cultures around the world have considered spending time outdoors to be crucial for our mental, physical and spiritual health. Indigenous peoples in North America continue to use nature for healing purposes with practices like sweat lodges, vision quests and medicine walks. In Ayurvedic medicine, which originated in India more than 3,000 years ago, the natural world is seen as essential for balancing the body and mind.

The ancient Greeks also recognized the healing power of nature, with physicians like Hippocrates recommending walks in nature for improving health and preventing disease. In fact, the term “spa” is thought to come from the Latin phrase “Sanus per Aquam,” meaning “health through water,” referring to the use of natural springs for enhancing wellness.

On some level, we’ve always known that nature is good for us. But lately, we’ve begun to reconnect with everything it has to offer. So while the term “forest bathing” may be relatively new, the practice of spending time outdoors for improved health and wellness has a long and rich history that provides us with many benefits.

the benefits of forest bathing

forest bathing can reduce stress & anxiety

Forest bathing reduces stress and anxiety in a number of ways. One of the most significant factors is exposure to natural environments, which has been shown to promote a relaxation response in the body. This response is characterized by a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and the production of stress hormones such as cortisol.

The sights, sounds and smells of nature can also have a calming effect on the mind, helping to reduce feelings of anxiety and tension. Plus, natural environments provide a respite from the noise and chaos of daily life, restoring the mind and helping to alleviate mental or emotional fatigue.

Furthermore, forest bathing promotes mindfulness, an effective technique for reducing stress and anxiety. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the here and now without judgment, and spending time in nature can help you cultivate this state of mind. By focusing on the sensations of being in the forest, you can learn how to stay present and reduce rumination about past or future events that may be causing you distress.

forest bathing can improve mood & emotional well-being

Reducing your stress and anxiety through forest bathing can also improve your overall mood and emotional well-being. When you’re less stressed, you’re better able to process your feelings and cope with difficulties in a healthier way.

Additionally, spending time in nature has been found to increase the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are important in mood regulation. Serotonin is associated with increased happiness, calm and focus, while dopamine is related to reward and motivation.

Finally, forest bathing promotes emotional well-being by providing a break from the pressures of daily life. Time spent in nature can provide a sense of perspective, allowing you to disconnect from current problems and worries so you can instead focus on the present moment.

forest bathing can enhance cognitive function & creativity

Studies have shown that spending time in nature through practices like forest bathing can enhance cognitive function and creativity. Exposure to natural environments has been found to improve attention and focus, which can be helpful for individuals who struggle with concentration. This is thought to be due to the restorative effect that nature has on the brain.

Spending time in nature improves creativity by reducing mental clutter and providing a sense of calm, allowing for more creative thinking and problem-solving. Natural environments are thought to stimulate imagination and promote divergent thinking, both of which are important for looking at things differently, generating ideas and finding new routes forward.

forest bathing can boost your physical fitness

Spending time in nature while forest bathing can provide more opportunities for exercise to increase your physical fitness. Activities such as walking or hiking improve cardiovascular health, build muscle strength and enhance your overall endurance.

Natural environments also provide a low-impact and varied terrain that can challenge the body in different ways. Walking on uneven ground, climbing over rocks and navigating trails can all contribute to an improvement in balance, coordination and agility.

In addition to these benefits, forest bathing improves your physical fitness by providing a break from the sedentary nature of modern life. Many people spend their days sitting at a desk or in front of a screen, which can have a negative effect on physical health. Taking the time to get outdoors can provide a much-needed change of pace and encourage individuals to be more active and engaged with their environment.

forest bathing can promote long-term sobriety

Together, all the benefits of forest bathing can help you stay sober by supporting your mental, physical and emotional health. It promotes things like mindfulness, which is an effective technique for managing cravings and other triggers associated with addiction, and mood regulation, which helps you reduce stress and feel more balanced.

Spending time in nature also provides a positive and healthy alternative to drug or alcohol use. Instead of turning to substances to cope with stress or negative emotions, you can use forest bathing as a healthy way to address these feelings.

Furthermore, forest bathing can provide a sense of connection and social support, which is important for individuals in recovery. Many people with addiction struggle with feelings of isolation and loneliness, but spending time in nature with others can help to reduce these feelings and promote a sense of community and belonging.

how to incorporate forest bathing into your recovery

Incorporating forest bathing into your recovery can be an effective way to promote lifelong sobriety and support your overall health and well-being. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Start small: Even a few minutes of spending time in nature can have a positive impact on your mental and physical health. Start with short walks or visits to a nearby park or natural area. With the nearby Rocky Mountains, expansive open spaces and abundant hiking trails, your options are almost limitless in Boulder.
  • Practice mindfulness: Use your time in nature to practice mindfulness techniques or breathing exercises. These can help you get the most out of your outdoor experiences, promote relaxation and further reduce feelings of stress or anxiety.
  • Include forest bathing in your regular routine: Make it a habit by incorporating forest bathing and other outdoor activities into your daily or weekly routine.
  • Explore new outdoor hobbies: Spend even more time in nature and enhance your physical fitness by exploring outdoor activities or hobbies that you enjoy, such as hiking, camping or swimming.
  • Join a nature-oriented support group: Look for local support groups that incorporate nature or outdoor activities into their programming. Being part of a supportive community can help to reduce feelings of isolation and provide a sense of connection and belonging.
  • Choose an outdoor-based recovery program: If you’re just starting your recovery journey, consider choosing a wilderness or outdoor-based program that combines addiction treatment with the benefits of spending time in nature. At Choice House, you’ll participate in a number of fun and therapeutic activities like hiking, camping and skiing to enhance your experience.

Forest bathing is a simple and effective way to improve your mental and physical health. Whether you’re in recovery or you’re just looking for new ways to reduce your overall stress, spending time in nature can provide a sense of calm, relaxation and connection that leaves you better equipped to deal with whatever comes your way. At Choice House in Boulder, Colorado, we incorporate outdoor and nature-based activities like forest bathing into our regular treatment programming to give men the best chance at achieving lifelong sobriety. To learn more about the healing power of nature and how we use it, reach out to us by clicking here or calling 303-578-4976. You can also email us at hello@choicehouse.com.

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