How Spending Time in Forests Can Improve Immunity

Spending time in green spaces can have lots of benefits for your wellbeing but here’s one you might not know. Spending time in forests can give you an immunity boost. 

Why forests are great for immunity


Plants produce chemical compounds called phytoncides, which are emitted into the environment to help them protect themselves against rot damage and insects.


When we enter an environment in which these chemicals have been released, we get immune-boosting benefits too. We inhale them and this triggers the production of natural killer cells (NK cells). These white blood cells are key players in our immunity and signal the body to seek out and destroy viruses that have infiltrated cells. 


One of the best places to find these phytoncides is in a forest. The abundance of plants found in an average forest means there’s great potential for reaping the benefits. If you can visit a forest with conifers, your immunity can get an even bigger boost. 


The more time you can spend in a forest, the better. If you can extend your visit to a day or more, you can experience a 40% increase in NK cells and in many cases, the effects will last for weeks. 


There’s another factor that can improve immunity too. In another study, children were allowed to play in mini forests and the increase in immunity took only weeks to show. One theory is that the children were being exposed to a greater diversity of microbes through their forest playtime. When they were tested again 28 days later, the diversity of microbes on their skin was a third higher than the children whose playtime still took place in a gravel yard, and there was still impressive diversity in their guts. Blood tests confirmed that changes in immune-related cells and proteins had occurred, especially for cytokine and T cells. Spending time in forests was quite literally changing their immune system. 

Wyre Forest

How to get the most from being in forests


You don’t need to do anything more complex than walk in a forest to reap the immunity rewards. Once you immerse yourself in nature, the benefits will happen without you even realising. You don’t even need to go deep into the forest - any part will have the same impact. 


As you move through the forest, immerse your senses in the greenery around you. There’s so much to see, smell, hear and touch - drink it in and experience everything nature has to offer. This is a great way to help yourself to feel calmer and happier too, as well as receiving the benefits for your immunity. 


Take your time doing this. The more you soak it up, the better you’ll feel. Even twenty minutes can bring a host of benefits but it’s ideal if you can spend several hours (or even days!) letting the forest work its magic. 


In a matter of weeks, you’ll likely notice a big difference in your immunity if you regularly spend time in a forest. Give it a try and see if you get ill less often! 


Hopefully this article will inspire you to get out into a forest near you!

Finn is the editor of You Well and has been writing about travel, health, and more for over 10 years.

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