Forest Bathing: Parks in the GTA

How Forest Bathing Can Improve Your Mental Health Instantaneously

The Act of Forest Bathing, “Shinrin-Yoku”:

There’s a reason why people tend to feel calm in nature. There is stillness, and that’s rare to find in the bustling city of Toronto. For some Torontonians, the urban landscape can be overwhelming. Look up, and all you see are gray skyscrapers, condominiums, and office buildings. Look to your left or right, and you’re surrounded by vehicles, buses, pedestrians and cyclists. The chaos and noise can feel confining and stressful at times. 

On the flip side, spending time in nature can feel rejuvenating. Particularly, the act of forest bathing, known as “Shinrin-Yoku,” a term coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, refers to soaking up all the sounds and scents of nature and can be impactful for city-goers who are tired of staring at concrete.

The Body’s Physiological Response to Green and Blue:

The next time you find yourself listening intently to the birds singing, feeling the cool grass beneath your fingertips, or basking in the sunlight as it peeks through the leaves on the trees, take a moment to notice how you feel.

As it turns out, there is scientific evidence to explain this emotional contrast between spending time in urban versus rural landscapes. A study conducted last year by professors at the University of Waterloo found that the design of an urban environment can have a direct impact on mental health. The data was adjusted for age, gender, ethnicity, mental health diagnosis, and social status, and the results found that when these individuals viewed a lake, anxiety levels decreased by 9%, but when viewing a bus stop, anxiety levels increased by 13%.

Another study found that spending time in forest environments promotes lower levels of cortisol, reduces blood pressure, and decreases sympathetic nerve activity (the system that controls your fight-or-flight response) while increasing parasympathetic nerve activity (the system that regulates digestion, heart rate, and breathing). To put this into perspective, individuals who experience chronic anxiety are typically in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight. Thus, by spending an adequate time in nature, their nervous system adjusts, and they feel a boost in their mood!

Medical Benefits of Forest Bathing:

Furthermore, Tara Brown, University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Forestry PhD candidate, explains that phytoncides, which are chemicals emitted by trees, can increase the activity of our white blood cells, which help our bodies fight off disease and infection.

In addition to the physical benefits, forest bathing is a great coping strategy to implement in conjunction with therapy. Although few and far between, we’ve identified some beautiful green sanctuaries within the GTA to destress and “forest bathe”.

Trails:
  1. Evergreen Brick Works – View Map Here
  2. Moore Park Ravine
  3. Wilket Creek Trail
Gardens:
  1. Alexandra Muir Memorial Gardens
  2. Edwards Gardens/Toronto Botanical Gardens
  3. Allan Gardens Conservatory
  4. Toronto Music Garden
  5. Rosetta McClain Gardens
Parks:
  1. Scarborough Bluffs
  2. Sugar Beach
  3. Trinity Bellwoods Park
  4. High Park
  5. Sherwood Park

With spring in bloom, challenge yourself to visit a new park, trail, or garden each weekend and let us know how these green spaces lift your spirits and help you tune out the noise. In a world – and city – that is overwhelming, nature offers, well, a breath of fresh air.

Share your favourite outdoor place to unwind in the comments below.

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