A man immersing in the nature with a boat.

Nature Immersion: What is it and Why is it Important?

This article was written by Sophie Atkinson

Long gone are the days of digging out worms in the backyard or jumping in muddy puddles on the way home from school. Unless you actively seek out time outdoors, the modern world can sometimes feel quite concrete.

But from exploring parks and forests to simply spending time in your own outdoor space, nature immersion is an increasingly important need.

This connection with the environment should be a part of everyone’s lives and while it may seem unnatural to spend long amounts of time in fresh air, slowly introducing it into your days, weeks, and months is key.

Nature immersion should improve mental fatigue and wellbeing, reduce stress, and encourage physical activity. We’ve taken a closer look at the practice of ‘Shinrin-yoku’ and highlighted steps on how to successfully become one with nature.

    

What is nature immersion therapy?



Nature immersion therapy is an approach that involves re-connecting with nature to boost overall health. The premise focuses on people being outdoors and in the natural world.

In this case, ‘nature’ refers to an organic environment where the majority of ecosystem processes are present.

For those stuck in a high-rise circle going from apartment to office, with little to no time to explore the wilderness, nature immersion therapy can be done through meditation practices with sounds that replicate the forest.

Exposure to nature in a natural landscape is the best and most effective version of the therapy though. According to studies, nature therapy has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, and improve overall quality of life and well-being.

 

The Stress of Modern Life and the Impact on Well-Being


Modern life can sometimes feel quite cut-throat. With a hugely consumerist culture, the need to go beyond the usual working hours with overtime, and the juggling of a social life, stress is experienced by many.

In fact, 55% of Americans are stressed during the day, according to the American Institute of Stress. Americans are one of the most stressed out in the world.

High levels of stress can be damaging to your health, from the mental to the physical. Chronic stress is often associated with numerous health issues and can contribute to cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure and heart disease.

It could also impact the digestive system, weaken immune function, and increase susceptibility to illnesses. And that’s just the physcial health aspects.

Did you know that stress can age your biological clock? That’s right! You could be aging yourself as there’s a clear link between chronic stress and accelerated age, as it contributes to the shortening of telomeres.

You can reverse this and recover from the damage of stress when you make a conscious effort to overcome this and focus on stress management. Nature immersion is an incredible way to do this.

The sense of calm and tranquility can often be felt as soon as you step away from the office and the air around us can actually impact us significantly.

For example, the oil that trees emit to protect themselves from pathogens and parasites (phytoncides) has been shown to have a direct effect on the activity of natural killer cells in the body. These are responsible for identifying and destroying potentially harmful organisms that enter the bloodstream. The heightened activity of those cells leads to an increased immune defense.


The Japanese Concept of Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest Bathing


The Japanese concept of Shinrin-Yoku translates into ‘forest bathing,’ with shinrin meaning forest and yoku meaning bath/bathing. The practice involves walking into a forest and soaking in the atmosphere. It’s said that this allows the brain to ‘naturally switch off from the sustained directed attention of life’s daily pressures.’

This form of relaxation and therapy has been used in Japan for decades, with the term being coined in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Japan’s Forest Agency actually invested a whopping $4 million to set up the ‘International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine’ and study forest bathing.

In a paper published by The Japan Society of Hygiene, Shinrin-yoku was found to ‘reduce the symptoms for anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion and increased the vigor in the Profile of Mood States (POMS) test in both male and female subjects.’

This research also showed that Shinrin-yoku ‘significantly improved the sleepiness on rising and the feeling [of being] refreshed (recovery from fatigue).


Health Benefits of Nature Immersion


There’s a reason why ‘get some fresh air’ and ‘go for a walk’ are suggestions we hear when feeling overwhelmed. Nature immersion is known for its vast and valuable physiological and psychological benefits.

To feel the benefits, it takes roughly 120 minutes of being outside for people to say they feel healthy and have a strong sense of wellbeing. This knowledge comes from a study of just shy of 20,000 people - with the aim being to examine associations between recreational nature contact in the last seven days and self-reported health.

The results showed that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces like local parks or natural environments, either all at once or spread out over several visits, were significantly more likely to report good health and psychological wellbeing than those who didn’t.

This is the first time an understanding of how long it takes for the benefits of nature to hit our bodies has been found. It’s not a huge amount of time either, with it equating to around 17 minutes if you were to get out and about every day.

Let’s get into the benefits of doing this two hours of nature immersion per week…


Reduces Stress


You don’t have to send yourself into solitude for days on end to feel the difference, as just 20 minutes of connecting with nature a day can help lower stress hormone levels. This is shown through a drop in cortisol which is known as the stress hormone.

This reduction in stress has actually been one of the most consistently proven psychological benefits of being out in nature. The Kaplans’ attention restoration theory (ART) explains how nature exposure allows people to be taken away from daily stressors, to be exposed to vast spaces and contexts, to partake in activities that are aligned with one’s intrinsic motivation, and to experience stimuli that are ‘softly fascinating.’

According to this theory, nature immersion stimulates all five of the senses which leads to increased awareness, eventually resulting in a state of relaxation.

Another theory backs this up, suggesting that exposure to unthreatening natural environments can be effective in reducing stress. These places should contain qualities such as water, richness, vegetation, moderate depth and complexity, and focal points that were essential for human survival hundreds or thousands of years ago.


Boosts Your Immune System


When out and about, especially when in the presence of trees and soil, it’s not just oxygen that we’re breathing in. Microbes exist in the ground which are called phytoncides. These work closely with our body’s natural killer cells which are white blood cells in our immune systems that help fight off and kill infections.

Trees do the same as they produce phytoncides which, when inhaled, boost our immune system too. Research into Shinrin-yoku shows that people’s levels of NK cells are upped when they are outside in forests, rather than in urban spaces.
Helps with anxiety

In a study looking at the effect of forest bathing on pre-hypertensive and hypertensive adults, results found that forest bathing interventions were effective at:

  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Lowering pulse rate
  • Increasing the power of heart rate variability
  • Improving cardiac-pulmonary parameters and metabolic function
  • Reducing anxiety levels
  • Improving the quality of life for participants.

Encourages Physical Activity


According to the World Health Organization, one in four adults - and four out of five adolescents - don’t do enough physical activity.

When embarking on nature immersion, you’ll quickly notice how easy it is to get some steps in or take on running for the first time. Other activities include hiking, cycling, and even wild swimming.


Mental Health Benefits


During COVID-19, when people were in lockdown for the first time, nearly half of people in the UK told researchers that visiting green spaces, such as parks, helped them to cope.

This isn’t surprising, given the copious amount of studies that echo similar findings. As a result, it’s recommended that people have a strong ‘connectedness’ to nature. This means a close relationship or an emotional attachment to our natural surroundings.

People who are more connected are usually happier in life and more likely to report feeling their lives are worthwhile. The serene outdoors generates many positive feelings like joy, creativity, calmness, and concentration so it makes sense as to why mental health is improved.

P.S. If you can’t be around nature, watching documentaries about the subject has also been proven to be good for mental health!


Get Your Own Nature Immersion Experience


With more than half of the world’s population living in an urban environment (which is expected to increase to 65% by 2030) dedicating the time to get outside is important.


Nature Immersion Programs


With the popularity of forest bathing continuing to grow, retreats and programs have been created by a range of businesses worldwide. These are tailored and structured, providing people with one-off immersion experiences.

These span from an overnight trip to a week or more in the wild. They’re not just for adults either, as there are ‘nature schools’ for children. These focus on fostering development through child-centered learning, play, exploration, and discovery of the natural world.

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If you’re looking to do this at your own pace, you could plan your own nature immersion getaway.


A Daily Routine


On average, it takes 66 days to form a habit. Changing your daily routine to add in more connection with nature would be beneficial for your health.

You could start small by suggesting walks or hikes with friends after work - whether that’s in a nearby forest, on a beach, mountain, or even a local park.

Instead of your lunch break at work being used to sit inside a dark office building, go for a walk to recharge.

Scheduling a regular time to explore, or even just stand in your own backyard for a while, can make your experiences with nature become more frequent.


Bring Nature Into Your Life


Although not quite akin to full nature immersion, implementing some small changes in your home and environment could be beneficial. It could be as simple as bringing in several houseplants. Not only do these look great, but studies show they improve psychological well-being and physical human health too.

Some other ways to introduce more natural elements into your living spaces include:

  • Use products or aromas with scents like pine, rain, fresh-cut grass, or fruits
  • Grow your own herbs, fruit, or vegetables
  • Listen to soundscapes that replicate the outdoors

For more articles on, well-being, read:

 

Headshot of Sophie Atkinson: Kineon's Women's Health and Wellness Writer

Sophie Atkinson

Job Title: Women's Health and Wellness Writer
LinkedIn: @Sophie_Atkinson
Location: United Kingdom
Bio: Sophie Atkinson is a journalist and content writer. Sophie went straight into the newsroom, after graduating with a BA (Hons) degree in Journalism. She has since gone on to work as a freelancer for a range of brands worldwide. Her work has included a focus on several topics around women’s health, with the aim of putting a stop to the taboo culture surrounding certain subjects and health issues

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