A family of four standing in a forest all standing around and touching a tree trunk

How ‘forest bathing’ can improve health and wellbeing

Published: 21/03/24 | Categories: Information & support, Author: Helen Hedworth

This United Nations International Day of Forests, Helen Hedworth, Research and Evaluation Coordinator for Small Woods, tells us about forest bathing, and how it can make people feel better.


Thursday, 21 March, is United Nations International Day of Forests, so what better time to think about how important they are to health and wellbeing? This year, Helen Hedworth, Research and Evaluation Coordinator for Coed Lleol/Small Woods, tells us about forest bathing, and how it can make people feel better.


The term ‘forest bathing’, a translation of the Japanese ‘Shinrin-yoku’ is becoming more widely used in English-speaking cultures. It relates to the practice of spending time in forests to derive health and wellbeing benefits. As far back as 2009, a Japanese study showed that people taking the same amount of exercise in a forest as they would normally do on a working day in the city had higher immune function and lower stress levels during forest walks, when compared with their regular working day – and this effect lasted for more than 30 days after the trip. Additional health benefits associated with nature-based activities include reductions in diastolic blood pressure, salivary cortisol and heart rate, and reductions in the incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

More recent research has shown that people who live in greener neighbourhoods, or those close to the sea, report higher positive wellbeing if they make recreational visits to these areas. Regular trips are associated with higher wellbeing and lower mental distress. During the COVID-19 pandemic, greater greenness within a 250m radius of a person’s postcode was a good predictor of higher levels of mental wellbeing, suggesting that proximity to nature is an important factor in accessing it.

Furthermore, a ten-year study of 2.3 million adults in Wales showed that greater exposure to green spaces was associated with reduced risk of future common mental health disorders, especially for those living in deprived communities. Every additional 360m between subjects’ homes and the nearest green or blue space (eg parks, lakes, beaches) was associated with higher odds of developing a common mental health disorder.


There is such compelling evidence that time spent in nature is good for health and wellbeing that it is captured in Welsh Government’s 2023 National Framework for Social Prescribing. Social prescribing connects people with their community to improve their health and wellbeing, and one way in which this can be done is by ‘green’ prescribing – spending time in nature. Research into ‘nature connectivity’ is teasing out another interesting angle. Rather than simply the number of visits to green/blue spaces, feeling a connection to that space is a stronger indicator of increased wellbeing and of pro-environmental behaviour.

By building a sustainable relationship between people and woodlands, we stand a better chance of preserving woodlands for future generations of humans to enjoy – and to provide essential habitat for a multitude of other species.

Coed Lleol runs social forestry programmes, connecting people with woodlands for health and wellbeing benefits, and to promote sustainable woodland management.


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