Have you heard of forest bathing? If you haven’t, don’t be alarmed… it has nothing to do with nudity. Rather, it’s an opportunity to take time out and connect to nature by slowly moving through a forest. It may be a buzzword at the moment, but forest bathing is not a new concept. In the 1980s, Japan’s government began to notice the harmful effects the tech boom was having on Japanese city dwellers. People were sick, stressed, distracted, aching and depressed. They called these symptoms “karoshi”, which translates to “death by overwork”.
As a way of combatting this, Japan launched a national health programme called ‘Shinrin-yoku’, which translates to “forest bath”. Following the success of this initiative, forest bathing is now a well-recognised relaxation practice for its ability to significantly reduce blood pressure and stress levels and deliver cardiac and pulmonary benefits.
Effects of forest bathing
Before your rational brain yells “codswallop!” it’s worthwhile looking at the studies done on forest bathing. From 2004 to 2012, Japanese officials spent millions studying the physiological and psychological effects of the practice. They measured the activity of human natural killer cells (NK cells) in the immune system before and after exposure to the woods. NK cells rapidly respond to virally infected cells and detect and control early signs of cancer. In a 2009 study, subjects showed a significant increase in NK cell activity the following week of a forest visit, with positive effects lasting a month following each weekend in the woods. Scientists say this is due to the various oils that trees emit, called phytoncides. These oils are produced to help plants and trees protect themselves from harmful insects and germs, but they also help boost human immune function.
If you’re feeling run down and stressed, time spent in nature might be just what you need. We’re spoilt for choice in Randwick City, with an abundance of beautiful reserves to wander through… slowly! Our top picks are the Fred Hollows Reserve and the Malabar Headland Western Walking Track.
Fred Hollows Reserve
A lush rainforest gully located between Alison Road and Bligh Place in Randwick, Fred Hollows Reserve is a peaceful oasis that offers a 15 to 20-minute walk and the chance to retreat and relax while surrounded by greenery and the sounds of nature. The 430m boardwalk includes steps, viewing platforms, bridges, information plaques and plenty of opportunities to let the natural surroundings work their magic.
Malabar Headland Western Walking Track
For a longer stroll, try the 1.15km Western Walking Track, which forms part of Sydney’s famous Coastal Walkway and links South Maroubra Beach with Malabar Beach. Perhaps what makes this spot so special is its unique flora. The reserve is home to the Sunshine Wattle, the Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub and a species of moss that provides a perfect propagation bed for other flora and is believed to be thousands of years old.
Here are our top 6 spots to go forest bathing:
1. Fred Hollows Reserve, Randwick
2. Western Walking Track, Malabar
3. Henry Head Walking Track, La Perouse
4. Cape Banks, La Perouse
5. Centennial Park
6. Bush tucker trail, Yarra Bay