Forest environments may have preventive effects on lifestyle-related diseases, says study.
When we stroll amongst trees savouring the fresh air, earthy smells, or hear the rustle of leaves with the sunlight bouncing off the branches, it’s not difficult to see how nature uplifts and soothes our mood. But it does much more than that.
It’s estimated that over 1.28 billion people globally have high blood pressure; a leading cause of premature death. As a result, scientists have been exploring the therapeutic effect of nature to help manage the problem.
Researchers in Japan investigated how ‘forest bathing’ affected the cardiovascular system in middle-aged men suffering from high blood pressure.
In Japanese, forest bathing – called Shinrin-yoku – refers to taking a walk in a forest, wood or anywhere with many trees ‘taking in’ the atmosphere using all the senses. People are encouraged to savour aromas, textures, sounds, colours, and shapes of the environment.
In the small study, men aged between 40-69 diagnosed with either higher normal blood pressure or hypertension walked for 2.6 km in an urban and forest environment on two separate occasions.
Researchers measured the participant’s blood pressure and pulse rate throughout both walks, as well as cardiovascular and metabolic tests and mood-based questionnaires.
The results published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine discovered that the forest walk lowered the pulse rate, improved negative moods such as anxiety and depression, and increased vigour. Conversely, the urban walk increased feelings of fatigue and decreased vigour.
The scientists also found changes in adrenaline and dopamine in urine samples, suggesting that the sympathetic nervous system – known as the fight and flight response – was lowered during the forest walk, indicating a more relaxed state.
And, the forest walks increased blood levels of the hormone adiponectin – low levels of adiponectin link to the development of type-2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
“Taken together, the forest bathing program induced significant physiological and psychological relaxation. These findings clarified the physiological and psychological effects of the forest bathing program and suggested a possibility of clinical use”, wrote the authors.
Li, Q., Kobayashi, M., Kumeda, S., Ochiai, T., Miura, T., Kagawa, T., Imai, M., Wang, Z., Otsuka, T., & Kawada, T. (2016). Effects of Forest Bathing on Cardiovascular and Metabolic Parameters in Middle-Aged Males. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2016, 2587381. https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/2587381