Forests cover 30% of the world’s surface and provide crucial environmental, social and health benefits. From an environmental perspective, trees perform many functions from storing carbon (and thus aiding in climate change mitigation) and filtering air, to regulating local temperatures and providing habitats that support and foster biodiversity. For many indigenous peoples, forests have traditionally sustained livelihoods and have served as a source of medicine, food, fuel, and shelter. The value of forests can even be linked directly to human mental health, with studies showing that short walks surrounded by nature can improve cognitive abilities and promote altruistic behaviour, creativity, and happiness. Ultimately, a few hours spent disconnected and unwinding in nature over the weekend can have a significant impact on your mindset and performance at work the following week.
Despite all the benefits forests provide, global deforestation continues at a rapid pace. Every minute, we lose the equivalent of 27 soccer fields in forest cover. While this data may suggest a pessimistic outcome, there are opportunities for change. Canada has the highest forest area per capita in the world, with 9.74 hectares of forest land per person (the world average is 0.55 hectares per person).
To celebrate, consider arranging a forest retreat with friends and family and partake in the practice of forest bathing – also referred to as “shinrin-yoku”. Originating from Japan, shinrin-yoku is a meditative experience that simply requires you to walk about the forest and take in the surrounding atmosphere. Substantiated by a robust body of scientific research, shinrin-yoku has been associated with being an integral part of wellness and preventative health care, relieving stress and anxiety while increasing energy, focus and creativity levels.
Unlike hiking, forest bathing isn’t about covering specific distances or getting in a good workout. Simply find a forest near you, such as a neighbourhood park, a conservation area or a provincial park. Follow a path and engage your senses, taking in the smell of the soil, the sounds of animals, and the moving air across your skin.
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity. – John Muir