If you see “forest bathing” offered at your local spa, it’s because the Japanese craze for shinrin-yoku has reached our shores. In fact, decades ago the Japanese government added the practice of forest bathing — refrerring not to actual bathing, but to reaping health benefits by walking in the woods — to its official public health initiatives.

Recently that American spas and health enthusiasts have also become aware of the scientifically-studied health benefits of shinrin-yoku.  “Forest bathing” walks seem to amplify the results of normal cardio workouts, according to recent research.

The Science of Shinrin-Yoku

To glance even casually at the research Asian scientists have undertaken to study the benefits of forest bathing, is to understand that their experiments go well beyond whether people “feel better” after a woodsy hike. In fact, these researchers have been measuring the amount of phytoncide (chemicals emitted by trees) that a person is exposed to while forest bathing against the human body’s physiological responses to them.

In fact, Japanese researchers have conducted studies based on everything from the relationship between the number of trees-per-region vs. that region’s mortality rate, to the human immune system’s response to various tree species.

Beefed-up immunity

The combination of the soothing quality of the forest scenery, combined with the cardio benefits of hiking, seems to offer a unique ability to decrease the amount of stress hormones that target “good” antiviral cells.

Evidence-gathering is still underway to determine the role that tree chemicals play in boosting your body’s ability to fight illness. But clearly a complex system of reactions make forest walking even more beneficial than a walk around the block would be.

Decreased cortisol

The same stress hormone, cortisol, that can negatively affect your body’s ability to fight illness can also cause — well, stress. And stress doesn’t just result in a bad mood.

Excess cortisol is also associated with serious conditions like arthritis and heart disease. The fact that forest bathing has been shown to lower cortisol levels makes it a valuable tool for people at risk for stress-related conditions.

Clearer Head

Wheher it’s through the beauty of nature, chemicals emitted by the trees, the pumped-up heartbeat — or a combination — studies also show that creativity and mood are measurably heightened after a session of forest bathing.