Forest bathing: Dong Nai Rubber Forest

Photo: Viet images/Shutterstock

It's no secret that spending time in nature offers immense health benefits. Even something as simple as taking a leisurely hike through the woods can turn around a bad mood.

If you know what I'm talking about, then you'll be interested to know there's a name for this phenomenon: Shinrin-yoku, which means "forest bathing" in Japanese. If that sounds a bit "woo woo" for your tastes, withhold that judgment for a minute because there's science to back it up!

The "magic" behind forest bathing boils down to the naturally produced allelochemic substances known as phytoncides, which are kind of like pheromones for plants. Their job is to help ward off pesky insects and slow the growth of fungi and bacteria. When humans are exposed to phytoncides, these chemicals are scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress and boost the growth of cancer-fighting white blood cells. Some common examples of plants that give off phytoncides include garlic, onion, pine, tea tree and oak, which makes sense considering their potent aromas.

While you can certainly receive benefits from phytoncides during a relaxing session with an aromatherapist, forest bathing is special because it also incorporates exercise. So, what are you waiting for? Go frolic in the woods!

(Or if you still need some convincing, continue below for some gorgeous forest images that are sure to inspire.)

Forest bathing: Gormanston, Ireland

Photo: Semmick Photo/Shutterstock

Tree tunnel in Gormanston, Ireland

Forest bathing: Arashiyama, Kyoto

Photo: meanep/Shutterstock

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Kyoto, Japan

Forest bathing: La Fortuna

Photo: Michal Szymanski/Shutterstock

Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica

Forest bathing: Ang Ka National Park

Photo: anekoho/Shutterstock

Ang Ka trail, Doi Inthanon National Park

Forest bathing: Cumberland Island

Photo: Catie Leary

Cumberland Island, Georgia

Forest bathing: An Giang Vietnam

Photo: Tonkin Image/Shutterstock

Tra Su mangrove forest, An Giang, Vietnam

Forest bathing: Daocheng, Sichuan

Photo: SIHASAKPRACHUM/Shutterstock

Daocheng Yading Natural Reserve, Sichuan, China

Forest bathing: Aitutaki Lagoon

Photo: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock

Aitutaki Lagoon, Cook Islands

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+. Want to see more great photos? Check out MNN’s photo blog.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.