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    Why Forest Bathing Can Make You Healthier and Happier, According to Science

    The forests are a place of mindfulness and slowing down: the smell of fresh soil, the lush greenery, the quiet. Spending time in the forests has a soothing, refreshing effect on our bodies and minds. But what is it, exactly, that makes us gravitate towards nature?

    Breathe Easy

    Why Nature Is So Refreshing

    Take a deep breath in and let go of everyday stresses... When you spend time in the forest, you will soon realise that being surrounded by trees seems to release the tension of deadlines and notifications with every breath you take. No wonder: Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, making for perfect natural air purifiers with additional healing properties.

    Scientific studies have found that forest air contains plant substances that have a positive effect on the human body. In Japan, "forest bathing" - spending mindful time in the forest - has even become a recognised form of therapy. People who love the forests know the feeling: Between forests and meadows, lakes and creeks, some worries seem to disappear into thin air, as nature replenishes our strength.

    Mystic Woods Schmittenhöhe Zell am See-Kaprun
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    • But why is it that refuelling mentally seems more effortless in nature than elsewhere? Why does a walk in the forest seem to have an almost magical effect on our minds? And what does science say about our innate attraction to nature?

      One reason is the richness of sensory sensations in nature: Depending on the time of year, a variety of scents envelop us - from moist soil in the spring and tree sap in the summer to tangy leaves in autumn and fresh "snow air" in the winter. Each of our senses is being stimulated in nature - in sharp contrast to our office spaces, where some of them are perpetually on pause.

      Studies have also shown that time spent in the forest can lead to a 50-percent increase in so-called "killer cells", which protect the body from adverse cell changes. No wonder, then, that forest bathing between moss, birdsong, and treetops has become so popular in Austria and elsewhere.

    • Live life in the slow lane: Slowing down in nature can have tangible physical benefits, including reduced stress hormones, a strengthened immune system, lower blood pressure, and a boost to the parasympathetic nervous system (the system responsible for the body's regeneration).

      Wood expert Erwin Thoma explains, "Humans still operate on the same software as in the Stone Age. That's how our bodies are able to mobilise from nought to sixty in dangerous situations - that's what the limbic system in our brains is for. It works completely subconsciously. And that's why spending time in nature is so refreshing – our subconscious recognises nature as a source of deep relaxation."

      Austria's forests, waterfalls, lakes, and mountains provide just that.

    • Thoma used to be a forester near Salzburg, and now owns a manufacturing company for wooden houses. He has also written multiple books about the effects forests and wood architecture has on humans.

      He says, "Living in a super-urban world, we often lack the opportunity to distance ourselves from light pollution or noise." Relaxing in nature, and particular in a forest, is a possible solution, providing clean air and quietness. "But above all, the biochemicals trees exchange amongst each other are a true elixir for us humans", says Thoma.

      Trees release these messenger chemicals, called terpenes, to defend themselves against vermin, fungi, and bacteria, and we absorb them through our breathing or via our skin. Anyone who loves the forests is familiar with their effects: a deep sense of well-being infused with sensuality, relaxation, and vitality.

    "Humans still operate on the same software as in the Stone Age. That's why spending time in nature is so refreshing – our subconscious recognises nature as a source of deep relaxation."

    Erwin Thoma
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    Dr. Erwin Thoma

    6 Places to Bathe in a Forest in Austria

    Almost half of Austria's area is covered with forests, most notably in the provinces Styria, Carinthia, and Salzburg. Even the capital city Vienna boasts 20% wooded areas, earning it the moniker "world's greenest city".

    • Teichalm
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    • Pond Bruneiteich Heidenreichstein, Waldviertel region
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    • Umgang Bregenzerwald
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    • Sycamore maple on the Großer Ahornboden in the Engtal
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    • Summer in the Lungau region / Salzburger Lungau
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    "Why do people feel so comfortable in wooden houses? Our limbic system determines that this is a place where we can completely relax!"

    Erwin Thoma
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    Dr. Erwin Thoma
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