Want to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce signs of depression, and improve quality of life? I won’t tell you about the one quick trick pill your doctor doesn’t want you to know about.
I’ll tell you to take a hike.
Spending time in nature has long been an anecdotal, “common sense” method for improving the state of mind. It’s now the subject of serious research into clinical applications. It’ll soon be a new positive psychology intervention. Researchers call it “forest bathing” – the formal practice of spending 1-2 hours in the woods.
The first of these studies come from Hiroshima University. Researchers tracked several key measurement sets associated with mental, emotional, and physical health. They took these measurements before and after a two-hour session of walking through the forest.
Researchers saw a reduction in the physiological markers of stress: heart rate and blood pressure decreased. What’s more, this trend appeared in the mental/emotional measures as well.
Researchers used the POMS scale, which measures an individual’s emotional profile across five negative subscales – Tension-Anxiety, Depression-Dejection, Anger-Hostility, Fatigue, and Confusion. After two hours of forest bathing, the negative POMS measures decreased significantly across all groups. Across participants, the average mood was considered negative before forest bathing and positive afterward.
What’s the key takeaway?
“Examining the physiological and psychological effects of a day-long session of forest bathing on a working-age group demonstrated significant positive effects on mental health…”
It’s great when research backs up our intuitive conclusions. Spending time in nature is good and good for us. This study prompts another question, though.
What does it say about our world that we need clinical research studies to tell us to spend some time in nature? What does it say that it takes a doctor to write us a prescription to get us outside?
Have we progressed or gone astray?