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Published on June 30, 2020

How to make nature bathing work for your health

Nature Bathing

Nature bathing? Yes, it’s a real thing, and a study of nearly 20,000 people says that spending 120 minutes a week in nature – no more, no less – makes you feel better.

If you’re wondering how to get the most out of the practice, Hyannis cardiologist Elissa Thompson, MD, has a suggestion that can make nature bathing work best for your health.

Think of nature bathing as nature therapy, she said. The Japanese named the concept shinrin-yoku about 40 years ago to help stressed-out workers. But to really benefit both your mind and your body, we should incorporate movement into the practice, she added.

“Sure, there are benefits to spending time outdoors, and I like to see everyone take advantage of the beautiful sites around Cape Cod,” said Dr. Thompson. “However, this study says you don’t have to exercise to gain healthy benefits when you spend time in nature, and we need to get the word out in every way we can that physical activity is part of your daily hygiene, just as important as washing your face and brushing your teeth.”

The study published in Science Reports said that “all it takes to feel better is contact with natural environments such as parks, woodlands and beaches.” It doesn’t matter how you achieve 120 minutes of contact with nature. And, according to the study, you get the same benefits from one long, versus several short, visits a week.

The scientists found no added benefit of spending more than 120 minutes in the great outdoors.

Dr. Thompson said there are added benefits to getting physical activity when you are outside.

“Let nature motivate you to move,” she said. “Why sit on the beach when you can walk on the sand? Exercise is the most important thing we can do to improve our cardiovascular health, our blood pressure, our glucose metabolism, and our cholesterol.”

Try the Cape Cod National Seashore

For many years, Dr. Thompson has been the medical director of the Healthy Parks, Healthy People initiative, a partnership between Cape Cod Healthcare and Cape Cod National Seashore. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the program has been suspended for 2020, although the annual 5K is still planned for the fall of 2020.

However, the National Seashore is still an excellent place to enjoy nature, she said. The park is implementing a phased approach to reopening this summer. Cape Cod National Seashore offers 44,000 acres that wind through and around Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, Chatham and Orleans. Talk about nature bathing!

“If you spend 120 minutes a week enjoying nature, why not spend at least 150 minutes exercising? That’s the minimum amount of time adults should exercise each week,” she said.

“We know that more than 80 percent of all cardiovascular events are preventable through lifestyle changes, specifically diet and exercise,” said Dr. Thompson. “Exercise is medicine. Even short amounts of activity are worthwhile, whether it’s taking the dog for a quick walk, doing some stretches during a TV commercial break or choosing to walk along the beach rather than sitting there watching the waves.”