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last updated June 2, 2021

The Benefits of Nature, Sunlight, and Forest Bathing

by Rob Arthur

You don’t have to become a mountain (wo)man to benefit from spending time in nature.

All you might need is a little bit of forest bathing and sunlight.

If you have any questions after you’ve read this article, let me know in the comments 🙂

The health benefits of nature

The health benefits of sunlight

One way for you to reap the benefits of nature is by getting some sunlight.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sun exposure, particularly when resulting in sun burns, has long been recognized as a risk factor for skin cancer (1).

Sunlight provides different wavelengths of UV radiation, most notably UVA and UVB, and UVA exposure is thought to be the primary sun-related driver of skin cancer.

However, regular sun exposure might also offer several health benefits.

There’s evidence sun exposure reduces risk of several non-skin cancers, hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, nonalcoholic fatty liver, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer disease, and mental illness (2).

One of the most recognized ways sunlight benefits our health is Vitamin D production in response to UVB exposure.

Sunlight and Vitamin D

Low vitamin D levels are linked to all the diseases mentioned previously, plus cardiovascular disease, autism, asthma, type 1 diabetes, and myopia, and insufficient sunlight is thought to play a role (3).

Vitamin D production, however, isn’t the only way to benefit from sunlight.

Sunlight and other health effects

Sun exposure also promotes immunomodulation, formation of nitric oxide, melatonin, and serotonin, and regulating our circadian clocks (4).

To maximize the benefits of sunlight while minimizing the risks, find a sweet spot between “just enough” and “too much”.

How to get sun safely

The optimal dose of sun exposure depends on skin pigmentation, latitude, and time of day and year, but you might start by exposing at least 50% of your body to the sun, just long enough to avoid burning, 2-3 times a week (5).

The ideal time for this appears to be between 10 am and 1 pm, due to how the ratio of UVA and UVB rays changes throughout the day (6).

Next, let’s talk about complementing all that sunlight with some shade.

The health benefits of forest bathing

Another popular way to experience the benefits of nature is forest bathing, often referred to as “shinrin yoku”.

Forest bathing is moving through nature with presence and awareness, typically for a mile or less, for two to four hours, as a practice, not a one-time event (7).

That is, the point of forest bathing isn’t necessarily to get physical exercise, but rather to spend time in nature in a relaxed, mindful manner.

That said, research shows forest bathing to promote several health benefits similar to those found with exercise.

For example, it’s been shown to improve cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, metabolic, immune and inflammatory, and antioxidant function; emotional state, attitude, and feelings; physical and psychological recovery; and anxiety and depression (8).

Of course, spending time outside can be an effective strategy for being more physically active.

That all being said, you might not live near any forests or in a super-sunny locale.

Other ways to get the benefits of nature

If there are no forests around, you might simply spend more time at a local park.

Doing so might help you increase your physical activity, improve physical and mental health, maintain a healthy body weight, reduce stress and anxiety, and live longer (9).

Don’t live near any parks?

That’s okay.

Even watching a nature documentary or listening to recorded sounds of nature can benefit your health (10,11).

The point is, you don’t have to make a grand effort or overhaul your life to get started.

What to do now

Small steps to benefit from time in nature here and there can add up.

Look for convenient opportunities to spend some time outside.

Is there a forest or national park within driving distance?

Are you able to make time for a walk before work?

Could you visit a local park or green space?

Is sitting or laying in the sun something you might enjoy?

Rather than eating at your desk, could you eat lunch outside?

What nature documentaries are available that you might want to watch?

Any of these steps are better than nothing at all.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

Do what you can with what you have.

Keep it simple.

You’ve got this.


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