Picture yourself walking in a forest, with trees surrounding you, green is the only color you see. You take a deep breath and smell the fresh air…You already feel more relaxed, don’t you? But what is it about this forest air that makes it beneficial to your health? Is there something hidden in it?
Indeed there is.
Plants and, mainly trees, produce various volatile chemical substances that can be beneficial to our health and the inhalation of such chemicals in the forest atmosphere is called Forest Bathing. First coined in Japan, ”Shinrin-yoku” was traditionally a 3-day trip to a forest area to have short walks in the forest and breathe in all the forest substances.[1,2,3]
These substances are not specifically made to make us feel good, but they are key mechanisms that plants have to protect themselves from sun damage, insects and also as a means of communication to attract pollinators.
So what exactly are those chemical substances?
Mainly, the components present in the forest atmosphere are terpenes, the biggest class of naturally occurring organic compounds. They are basically formed by units of isoprene (C5H8) and are classified depending on the number of isoprene units present: monoterpenes (C10), sesquiterpenes(C15) and diterpenes(C20). You can probably smell them, as they are volatile and give forests its characteristic smell.
We can also absorb several of these compounds by inhalation and they can reach the bloodstream in less than 2 minutes and in half an hour reach all the cells of the body!
The health benefits of forest bathing have been the focus of more studies recently, but they have already shown to lower blood pressure, enhance immunity, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects as well as reduce stress and improve sleep. [5,6,7,8]
Not only trees from forests have the ability to produce health improving substances. Desert plants, such as those present in the Sonoran Desert in the Arizona Uplands emit fragrant volatile compounds and some of those can even have analgesic properties.
If you can’t enjoy the forest environment or take a trip to the Sonoran Desert on a daily basis, don’t despair! You can probably have some of the benefits of forest bathing by having houseplants, in other words, ‘indoor forest bathing” .
If you want to know more about terpenes and their effects on health go check out the image below and if you want to HAVE the health effects I suggest you close your computer now and go forest bathing!
1.Cho, Kyoung Sang et al. “Terpenes from Forests and Human Health.” Toxicological research vol. 33,2 (2017): 97-106. doi:10.5487/TR.2017.33.2.097
2.Tsunetsugu, Y., Park, B.J. and Miyazaki, Y. (2010) Trends in research related to “Shinrin-yoku” (taking in the forest atmo- sphere or forest bathing) in Japan. Environ. Health Prev. Med., 15, 27-37.
3.Li Q. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environ. Health Prev. Med. 2010;15:9–17. doi: 10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3.
4. Dudareva N., Pichersky E., Gershenzon J. Biochemistry of plant volatiles. Plant Physiol. 2004;135:1893–1902. doi: 10.1104/pp.104.049981.
5.Peterfalvi, A., Meggyes, M., Makszin, L., Farkas, N., Miko, E., Miseta, A., & Szereday, L. (2021). Forest Bathing Always Makes Sense: Blood Pressure-Lowering and Immune System-Balancing Effects in Late Spring and Winter in Central Europe. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(4), 2067. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18042067
6.Nabhan, G. P., Daugherty, E., & Hartung, T. (2022). Health Benefits of the Diverse Volatile Oils in Native Plants of Ancient Ironwood-Giant Cactus Forests of the Sonoran Desert: An Adaptation to Climate Change?. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(6), 3250. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19063250
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9.Roviello, V., Scognamiglio, P. L., Caruso, U., Vicidomini, C., & Roviello, G. N. (2021). Evaluating In Silico the Potential Health and Environmental Benefits of Houseplant Volatile Organic Compounds for an Emerging 'Indoor Forest Bathing' Approach. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(1), 273. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19010273