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Japanese ‘forest bathing’ backed by Duchess of Cambridge ‘should be prescribed on the NHS’

The trendy Japanese activity of “forest bathing” supported by the Duchess of Cambridge should be prescribed by the NHS to treat stress, the Woodland Trust has said. 

Telepraph, Henry Bodkin, Science Correspondent, 5 June 2019

The trendy Japanese activity of “forest bathing” supported by the Duchess of Cambridge should be prescribed by the NHS to treat stress, the Woodland Trust has said. The conservation charity has called on GPs to direct patients to their nearest woodland to “reconnect with nature” by practising mindfulness among trees. Originally conceived in Japan 40 years ago as a means to combat workplace burnout, the movement has quietly attracted a growing following in the UK. It was brought to prominence last month, however, when it was revealed the Duchess had based her debut garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, called RHS Back to Nature, on the idea. Translated from the Japanese Shinrin-yoku, forest bathing involves forgetting day-to-day concerns in favour of absorbing the sensations of a woodland setting through the five senses.

It is now practised by more than five million Japanese people and has prompted a number of scientific studies which appear to prove its beneficial effects.

NHS bosses are currently pushing a campaign for “social prescribing”, whereby GPs try to prevent illness, or treat it in the early stages, by linking patients with activities that boost health and wellbeing, such as rambling or singing in a choir.

Stuart Dainton, head of innovation at the Woodland Trust, said all family doctors should have the knowledge to point patients towards the nearest suitable woodland where they can absorb nature, informally or as part of a structured programme.

He appealed to GPs to make use of the Trust’s more than 1,000 UK sites.

“Social prescribing through aspects of Shinrin-yoku, forest bathing, I think is a route to helping the nation destress,” he said.

“It’s about invigorating the senses by walking in the woods, smelling, listening to the sounds of the woods, touching the ground. He added that forest bathing should also be encouraged for children to help fight the “always on” culture prompted by social media.

A growing number of companies have begun offering structured forest bathing, lasting anywhere in length between one or two hours to eight-day residential trips.

Meanwhile the Forestry Commission, the largest owner of wooded land, has announced plans to launch a nationwide forest bathing programme and now offers a printable guide on its website, which includes tips on how to breath correctly.

Wounded and traumatised military personnel are among the groups who have practised the activity.

Faith Douglas, a forest bathing “practitioner” who has led such groups, said: “It reduces stress levels, reduces heart rate, reduces your blood pressure.

“The knock on it that it boosts your immunity and it enhances your quality of life.

“It’s been out there for years – this is something our ancestors did, this is something that cultures do all over the planet — it’s simply being mindful in a natural environment.”