Improve Relaxation and Mood by Walking in a Forest
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Forest bathing isn’t just hiking, but it also isn’t hard to learn. It won’t necessarily change your life. But it has roots in a real, scientifically observed process, and it’s a great way to learn basic meditation.” – Nick Douglas
Modern living is stressful, perhaps, in part because it has divorced us from the natural world that our species was immersed in throughout its evolutionary history. Modern environments may be damaging to our health and well-being simply because the species did not evolve to cope with them. This suggests that returning to nature, at least occasionally, may be beneficial. Indeed, researchers are beginning to study nature walks or what the Japanese call “Forest Bathing” and their effects on our mental and physical health.
Mindfulness practices have been found routinely to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. People have long reported that walking in nature elevates their mood. It appears intuitively obvious that if it occurred in a beautiful natural place, it would greatly lift the spirits. But, there is little systematic research regarding these effects. It’s possible that walking in nature might improve relaxation and mood and relieve stress..
In today’s Research News article “Effects of Walking in Bamboo Forest and City Environments on Brainwave Activity in Young Adults.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5896408/ ), Hassan and colleagues recruited college students and randomly assigned them to one of two groups. The first group walked for 15 minutes in a bamboo forest on day one while on the second day walked for 15 minutes in a city. The second group did the same but in reverse order. Participants blood pressure and mood were measured before and after the walks and their brain activity was measured with an Electroencephalogram (EEG) during the walks.
They found that walking in both environments reduced blood pressure but blood pressure was significantly lower both before and after the bamboo forest walk. During the bamboo forest but not the city walks, the EEG had significant increases in rhythmic activity in the alpha (8-12 cycles per second) and theta (4-7.5 cycles per second) rhythm bands. These are the same bands that increase during meditation. There was also a significant increase in the beta (13-30 cycles per second) rhythm band which is associated with attention. In addition, after the bamboo forest walk, the students reported feeling more relaxed, comfortable, and natural, and less anxious, than after the city walk.
These are interesting results that demonstrate that “Forest Bathing”, walking in a bamboo forest for 15 minutes, produces both a physiological and psychological relaxation and mood improvement. The Electroencephalogram (EEG) results suggest that walking in a forest has similar effects to that of meditation. Indeed, performing walking meditation in nature has been found to significantly improve responses to stress. These results, then, are empirical support for the long-held belief that walking in nature has particularly beneficial effects.
So, improve relaxation and mood by walking in a forest.
“The idea that spending time in nature is good for our health is not new. Most of human evolutionary history was spent in environments that lack buildings and walls. Our bodies have adapted to living in the natural world. But today most of us spend much of our life indoors, or at least tethered to devices. Perhaps the new forest bathing trend is a recognition that many of us need a little nudge to get back out there.” – Allison Aubrey
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Hassan, A., Tao, J., Li, G., Jiang, M., Aii, L., Zhihui, J., … Qibing, C. (2018). Effects of Walking in Bamboo Forest and City Environments on Brainwave Activity in Young Adults. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2018, 9653857. http://doi.org/10.1155/2018/9653857
Background. In Japan, “Shinrin-yoku” or forest bathing (spending time in forests) is a major practice used for relaxation. However, its effects on promoting human mental health are still under consideration. The objective of this study was to investigate the physiological and psychological relaxation effects of forest walking on adults. Sixty participants (50% males; 50% females) were trained to walk 15-minute predetermined courses in a bamboo forest and a city area (control). The length of the courses was the same to allow comparison of the effects of both environments. Blood pressure and EEG results were measured to assess the physiological responses and the semantic differential method (SDM) and STAI were used to study the psychological responses. Blood pressure was significantly decreased and variation in brain activity was observed in both environments. The results of the two questionnaires indicated that walking in the bamboo forest improves mood and reduces anxiety. Moreover, the mean meditation and attention scores were significantly increased after walking in a bamboo forest. The results of the physiological and psychological measurements indicate the relaxing effects of walking in a bamboo forest on adults.