Use Forest Bathing for Immune Boosting

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

Have you ever thought of bathing in the forest? I’m not referring to a literal bath of course, but to the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku where you mindfully immerse yourself in the forest environment. This therapeutic process can have some amazing benefits for your physical and mental health. If you’ve never tried it, now is the time to give it a go! You can actually use forest bathing for immune boosting, helping your body to fight off viruses and stay healthy.

In this article I will cover:

We’ll start by defining what forest bathing actually is.

Man and woman in forest with hands in air forest bathing, breathe fresh air, health benefits nature.


What is forest bathing?

Forest bathing might sound like taking a literal bath in nature, but that’s not what this is about Instead, a forest bath refers to an intentional practice of getting out in nature and taking it in. It means spending time in the forest amongst the trees, immersing yourself in the forest and soaking up the atmosphere. In Japan, this practice is referred to as shinrin-yoku, and it is also sometimes called forest therapy.

This practice surfaced formally in Japan in the 1980s, and it has since caught on around the world. There is now a large body of research looking at the effects of forest bathing and its benefits for your health. Forest bathing benefits stress levels, mental health, cardiovascular health, and yes – immune health.

Today, we are going to focus on the forest bathing research as it pertains to the positive effects on immune functioning.


Benefits of forest bathing for the immune system

When we are out in the forest, we aren’t just surrounded by visual beauty. We are also exposed to chemicals that the trees around us are constantly releasing. While we are out tree bathing, we are actually breathing in essential oils emitted from the trees. And these essential oils can have tremendous effects in our body.

Woman in the forest holds leaf and breathes in forest air, forest bathing, nature therapy.

One type of compound that has been identified as particularly important is something called phytoncides. Researchers have found that trees emit this compound into the air in their essential oils, and that this compound has significant immune benefits.

Studies show that phytoncides are able to significantly increase the number of natural killer cells in your body. Natural killer cells are a type of white blood cell that is part of your innate immune system. You are born with this type of immune defense that doesn’t need to be trained; it knows what to do from the get go.

One function of natural killer cells is to punch holes in cells that are infected by viruses, causing the cells to commit suicide. They make the cell destroy itself along with the virus inside of it so we can stay protected from further infection. Natural killer cells rely on certain weapons (like granzymes, perforin, and granulysin) to carry out their job of fighting viruses.

There are many studies that have investigated the effects of forest bathing and compounds like phytoncides on the human body. Let’s take a look at some of the evidence.

3D illustration of natural killer cells, immune system anatomy, fight viruses.


What does the research say?

There is a growing body of interesting studies (many out of Japan) that relate to the immune benefits of being out in the forest.

There are three studies I want to highlight to give you an idea of the forest bathing science:

  • The first study in 2006 was performed on a small group of people who went into the forest for 3 days and 2 nights. The results from before and after tests showed a significant increase in natural killer cells along with a spike in phytoncides after the forest bathing.
  • The next one from 2008 compared the results of people who went out into the forest for 3 days with people who went out walking in the city. The researchers wanted to know if the previously observed results were specific to being in the forest. They found that the people in the forest were the ones who had a significant increase in natural killer cells, along with an increase in the weaponry that the cells use to annihilate virus-infected cells.
  • That last study in 2009 was done in a hotel room. The researchers infused the essential oil from the trees with phytoncides throughout the air, and they found that that was enough to increase the natural killer cells and weaponry that they use. This helped confirm the idea that part of the benefit of forest bathing for immune boosting is directly linked to phytoncide exposure. This study also found adrenaline levels were decreased in the subjects, suggesting that forest bathing has immune benefits along with stress reduction benefits at the same time.

There’s something pretty amazing about what was found in these studies; the effects created by being out in nature in the trees was not short term. The changes in the body actually lasted a couple of weeks, helping to strengthen the immune system long after the trip to the woods was over.

If it takes just a little bit of time soaking up some nature to boost your immune system for several weeks, then why wouldn’t you want to try this practice for yourself? The effects may be significant, long lasting, and well worth it.


How to try forest bathing for immune boosting

Cartoon illustration of woman sitting in forest with trees and plants, health benefits, calm.

Forest bathing health benefits are pretty impressive. We can actually strengthen our immune defenses while relaxing, getting some stress-relief, and taking in natural beauty all at the same time. If you want to support yourself in staying healthy and fighting off pathogens, then give forest bathing a try.

The key to forest bathing is to find a green space where you can be amongst the trees and spend time breathing the forest air.

Here are some tips for how to take a forest bath yourself:

  • Find some natural green space that you can access – even if it is a nearby park with a small grove of native trees.
  • Leave behind distractions like your phone so you can fully embrace the natural world and be present.
  • Intentionally connect with the natural environment around you. Breathe deep and pay attention to your senses. Notice the smells, sounds, sights, and even the feel of the air on your skin, for example.
  • Don’t rush. Take your time and make sure you allow yourself to totally connect with nature and immerse yourself in the experience.

Forest bathing can be a very simple, easy practice. Maybe you are lucky enough to have woods in your backyard. Or maybe you need to drive to a trailhead to find some forested terrain. Either way, you simply need to find some woods and spend some time there breathing the fresh forest air.


Key takeaways

Hand holding sign that says Boost Your Immune System to Fight Viruses.

Now more than ever, it is important to bulletproof your immune system and help make it as strong as possible. There are many strategies for boosting your immune defenses, but the evidence above points to an easy, inexpensive, and all-natural way to do it.

Simply get out in nature, walk in the woods, and get exposed to all the amazing things that are emitted from the trees around you. You’ll naturally boost your immune functioning, and you’ll likely feel other benefits right away.

Spending time in the trees is also a great way to reduce stress, relax, breathe fresh air, get some physical activity, and improve your mood.

Have you ever tried forest bathing? What kinds of benefits of forest bathing did you notice? Share with us in the comments section below.


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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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