• Nancy Hupp

The Wonder of a Walk in the Woods

Poet Robert Frost captured the calm, still of the forest in his poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which allowed a moment of reflection in woods “lovely, dark, and deep.” In yet another poem, “The Road Not Taken,” Frost describes a traveler pondering two roads that “diverged in a wood,” then selecting the “one less traveled by.” Even in reading his poems, the image of the quiet woods encourages a reflective solitude all too scarce in today’s connected world. Decades later, research shows Frost was on to something; some doctors have started prescribing time in nature, recognizing the health benefits[1], including those to cancer survivors[2].

Frost essentially described the decades-old Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which means “taking in the forest.” Purists recommend two hours, alone or with a trained guide, walking slowly and noticing all that nature offers — the touch of tree bark, the rustle of leaves, but one study showed that even a view of nature helped surgical recovery[3].

Scientists aren’t sure why “forest bathing” or “forest therapy” conveys health benefits. In May 2020, both Harvard Health and Cleveland Clinic have discussed studies exploring health benefits of forest therapy[4,5].

  • A walk in the forest has been shown to decrease levels of the hormone cortisol, which, in chronic elevations, can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and headaches.

  • Another study showed a positive impact on a protein that regulates blood sugar.

  • Others credit natural tree oils, known to have antimicrobial properties that may promote immunity

Not surprisingly, research has established a relationship between quality of sleep and cancer survival[6], particularly for those with breast or colorectal cancer. Given that relationship, a July 2019 study explored whether forest therapy could help[7] cancer patients by improving their sleep quality. Nine patients with gastrointestinal cancer completed a forest therapy program. The results showed an improvement in sleep efficiency[8]. Another small study found positive effects of forest therapy in breast cancer patients[9].

The UK is all in. The National Trust has tips and links to guides[10]. Forestry England not only has tips, but its website features videos for those confined to home[11]. Park Rx America rates parks on this side of the pond to encourage healthcare providers to prescribe nature time to prevent and treat chronic disease[12]. Walk with a Doc hosts both virtual and online walks with physicians around the United States[13]. These resources make it easy to experiment with forest therapy, even during a pandemic. 

Do something for your physical and mental health[14]. Log on to a virtual walk or open your door and head out. Allow yourself a respite from all that is troubling our world and let nature work its magic on your physical and mental health. 


  1., Sec. 5 Conclusions

  2., Sec. 5 Conclusions













199 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All