Tree hugging and forest bathing aren’t just for hippies. Time spent in the woodland, exploring in nature and escaping our technology-led lifestyles, is good for your health. With scientific proof that just a couple of hours in the woods can benefit wellbeing, why not take a woodland holiday with your dog?
The UK is littered with woodland begging to be explored. With leaves rustling underfoot, canopies swaying overhead and an array of flora and fauna to be discovered, it’s a sensory and playful environment for humans and our four-legged friends. As everyone scampers to the seaside for their holidays, the UK’s forests and woodland are quieter than the beach, and with less footfall than the shoreline, wildlife and nature thrive in abundance.
But it’s not just the beauty of nature that’s so alluring. Here we look at the health benefits of spending time in the woods with your dog.
Forest bathing is good for your health
Forest bathing – a slow walk through woodland using all your senses – has been clinically proven to promote physical and mental health. Scientific studies have shown that just two hours spent wandering in the woodland can reduce blood pressure, lower stress levels and improve our concentration and memory.
During the 1980s the Japanese noticed that people were suffering from ‘technostress’ as a result of increasingly urbanised societies. After testing the effects of nature on the human body and mind, the theory evolved that stimulating our senses in nature – or literally bathing in the forest – was beneficial to combatting stress. So natural prescriptions were given to take walks in the woodland, and the term shinrin-yoku – which translates to forest bathing – was coined.
Woodland walks with your dog lower stress levels
Slowing down and walking amongst the trees calms our sympathetic nerve activity (our flight or fight reactions), replacing it with parasympathetic nerve activity (our rest and relax responses). Which means that while your dog is scuffling through the leaves and you’re watching the dappled sunlight pierce through the treetops, your surroundings are naturally combatting stress by inducing calmer feelings.
Being in nature helps fight disease and depression
Have you ever noticed how much happier you feel after a walk in the woods? Well, research proves that it can actually improve our health and alleviate depression.
Being immersed in the sounds and sights of the forest reduces blood pressure, stress hormones (cortisol) and blood sugar levels, consequently boosting the body’s natural resistance to disease – a resistance that is often suppressed under modern-day stress.
Boosting the immune system also increases our white blood cells, lifts depression and improves the quality of sleep. Plus, bacteria in the soil and chemicals released from the trees (phytoncides) also naturally aid our wellbeing. So, getting hands-on by hugging tree trunks, touching the dewdrops on the leaves and sitting on the forest floor, all increase the positive benefits that nature has on our health.
Time in the trees takes you away from technology
It’s no surprise that the Japanese prescribed forest bathing to get away from overwork and ‘technostress’. Away from screens and the busyness of life, the forest is a playful and stimulating environment to switch our focus to the beauty of nature and fill our senses in a stunning outdoor playground. With your dog at your side, the trees swaying overhead and the rustle of leaves underfoot, there’s no space to worry about emails and deadlines. And if you’re forest bathing with friends and family, there’s time and space to bond and connect away from a technology-led existence at home.
A woodland holiday will boost your fitness
Although forest bathing encourages you to walk slowly through nature, being active and outdoors naturally boosts your health and fitness. A two-hour walk will do wonders for your fitness, leave your skin glowing, your mind more alert and your spirits as high as the treetops. Your dog will be well exercised too, spending hours snuffling in the undergrowth, chasing sticks and tracking the scents of nature.
So, how do you tap into the power of nature on your woodland holiday?
Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is the experience of walking in woodland, mindfully. Slow down and take in all the elements of nature with your senses. Try to stay present in the moment and breathe deeply, quieting the mind and deepening your connection with nature.
Find a sit spot where you can spend time on your own to contemplate the wonder of your surroundings. Focus on the details around you – from the shadows cast on the forest floor and the sound of branches clinking in the breeze, to the wildflowers and scurry of wildlife underfoot. Once you’re focussed on the wonder of the woodland, you’re distracted from daily stress and negative thought patterns. And while your senses are switched to the sounds and sights of the forest, nature’s power works its magic on your health and wellbeing.
Book a Woodland Holiday With Your Dog
Thinking of taking a woodland holiday with your dog? There are glorious forests and woodlands all over the UK, where you can soak in the scenery and enjoy walking trails through the trees, and revitalise the senses while enjoying time out with your dog. The New Forest, the Forest of Dean, the Lake District, Northumberland and the vast forests of Dumfries and Galloway spring to mind as idyllic woodland destinations with a wide range of dog-friendly accommodation to choose from nearby. So start your search for pet-friendly properties and enjoy a spot of forest bathing on your next adventure with your four-legged friend.