Improve Relaxation and Mood by Walking in a Forest

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

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

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

 

Abstract

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.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5896408/

 

Spiral Up Your Mood with Walking Meditation

 

walking-meditatio2-gotink

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“One of the most useful and grounding ways of attending to our body is the practice of walking meditation. Walking meditation is a simple and universal practice for developing calm, connectedness, and embodied awareness. It can be practiced regularly, before or after sitting meditation or any time on its own, such as after a busy day at work or on a lazy Sunday morning. The art of walking meditation is to learn to be aware as you walk, to use the natural movement of walking to cultivate mindfulness and wakeful presence.” – Jack Kornfield

 

Contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi / qigong, have been shown to elevate mood in normal individuals and individuals who suffer from mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Two common techniques used with patients with mood disorders are Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Both of these therapies contain a number of mindfulness training techniques including sitting meditation, body scan, and walking meditation. Although the effects of sitting meditation have been well documented, little is known about the effects of walking meditation.

 

It has long been reported that walking in nature elevates 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 conducting walking meditation in nature might potentiate the effects by combining two mood enhancing practices. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and mood stimulate each other in an upward spiral: a mindful walking intervention using experience sampling.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1355140297843226/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5010615/

Gotink and colleagues studied the effects of waking meditation in nature on the moods of adults who had completed courses in either Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The participants were measured a week before and during a walking meditation retreat of either 1, 3, or 6-days. Walking occurred in nature along the river Rhine in the Netherlands. During the walk their moods (content, cheerful, relaxed, energetic, calm, sad, irritated, insecure, and tense and mindful observing, acting with awareness, non-judgment, and non-reacting) were sampled at random times by responding to a signal on a cell phone which also collected the responses. Before and after the control and walking periods the participants filled out scales measuring depression, anxiety, rumination, and mindfulness.

 

They found that the mindful walking significantly increased positive moods and mindfulness and decreased negative moods. They also found that state mindfulness at one sampling significantly predicted increased positive moods and decreased negative moods at the next sampling. Similarly, positive moods at one sampling significantly predicted increased state mindfulness at the next sampling while negative moods at one sampling significantly predicted decreased state mindfulness at the next sampling. These findings suggest that walking in nature improves mood and that mindfulness increases appear to precede improvements in mood.

 

These are interesting findings. They demonstrate that the experience sampling method can be employed to monitor the growth in mindfulness and mood during walking in a natural setting. They further suggest that walking in nature produces an upward spiral of mindfulness and mood enhancement where increased mindfulness at one moment increases mood at the next which increases mindfulness at the next which increases mood at the next and so on.

 

So, spiral up your mood with walking meditation.

 

“The Buddha stressed developing mindfulness in the four main postures of the body:  standing, sitting, lying down and walking.  He exhorted us to be mindful in all these postures, to create a clear awareness and recollection of what we are doing when we are in any particular posture.” – Buddhist Society of Western Australia

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Gotink, R. A., Hermans, K. S. F. M., Geschwind, N., De Nooij, R., De Groot, W. T., & Speckens, A. E. M. (2016). Mindfulness and mood stimulate each other in an upward spiral: a mindful walking intervention using experience sampling. Mindfulness, 7(5), 1114–1122. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0550-8

 

Abstract

The aim of this study was to explore the feasibility and effectiveness of mindful walking in nature as a possible means to maintain mindfulness skills after a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course. Mindful walking alongside the river Rhine took place for 1, 3, 6, or 10 days, with a control period of a similar number of days, 1 week before the mindful walking period. In 29 mindfulness participants, experience sampling method (ESM) was performed during the control and mindful walking period. Smartphones offered items on positive and negative affect and state mindfulness at random times during the day. Furthermore, self-report questionnaires were administered before and after the control and mindful walking period, assessing depression, anxiety, stress, brooding, and mindfulness skills. ESM data showed that walking resulted in a significant improvement of both mindfulness and positive affect, and that state mindfulness and positive affect prospectively enhanced each other in an upward spiral. The opposite pattern was observed with state mindfulness and negative affect, where increased state mindfulness predicted less negative affect. Exploratory questionnaire data indicated corresponding results, though non-significant due to the small sample size. This is the first time that ESM was used to assess interactions between state mindfulness and momentary affect during a mindfulness intervention of several consecutive days, showing an upward spiral effect. Mindful walking in nature may be an effective way to maintain mindfulness practice and further improve psychological functioning.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5010615/

Improve Type II Diabetes with Walking Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“While meditating as we walk, we can experience how our bodies feel much more intensely than we can either while doing a sitting meditation or simply walking with our normally scattered mental energy. Instead of thinking of the past or of the future — which our minds are into essentially all the time before we learn to meditate — we can feel all the pleasant sensations as well as the pain that parts of our body is telling us as we move along. This experience can be intense, and that intensity can in turn give us intense pleasure and even joy.” – David Mendosa

 

Type 2 diabetes is a common and increasingly prevalent illness that is largely preventable. Although this has been called adult-onset diabetes it is increasingly being diagnosed in children. It is estimated that 30 million people in the United States have diabetes and the numbers are growing. One of the reasons for the increasing incidence of Type 2 Diabetes is its association with overweight and obesity which is becoming epidemic in the industrialized world. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. In addition, diabetes is heavily associated with other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, and circulatory problems leading to amputations. As a result, diabetes doubles the risk of death of any cause compared to individuals of the same age without diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes results from a resistance of tissues, especially fat tissues, to the ability of insulin to promote the uptake of glucose from the blood. As a result, blood sugar levels rise producing hyperglycemia.

 

A leading cause of this tissue resistance to insulin is overweight and obesity and a sedentary life style. Hence, treatment and prevention of Type 2 Diabetes focuses on diet, exercise, and weight control. Recently, mindfulness practices have been shown to be helpful in managing diabetes.

A mindfulness practice that combines mindfulness with exercise is yoga and it has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of Type II Diabetes. Mindfulness can also be combined with other exercises. Walking has been frequently combined with meditation. This suggests that a walking meditation practice might be helpful in the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of Buddhist walking meditation on glycemic control and vascular function in patients with type 2 diabetes.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1275528305804426/?type=3&theater

or below, Gainey and colleagues recruited adults with Type 2 Diabetes and had them walk for 40 minutes on a treadmill at a moderate intensity (50% to 70% of maximum heart rate). They randomly assigned them to either a continue the walking exercise or to practice mindfulness (focusing attention on each foot striking the floor) while performing the walking exercise for a 12-week period. Measurements were taken before and after the 12-week walking exercise of Body mass index (BMI), maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), muscle strength, artery dilatation and stiffness, blood pressure, fasting blood glucose, insulin, HbA1c, lipid profile and plasma cortisol concentrations.

 

They found that both groups showed improvements in maximal oxygen consumption, arterial dilatation, fasting blood glucose, suggesting that walking exercise regardless of the inclusion of meditation improves blood glucose levels and cardiovascular fitness in patients with type 2 diabetes. Only walking meditation, however, reduced HbA1c, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, arterial stiffness and plasma cortisol concentration suggesting that the inclusion of meditation practice with the walking was effective in improving glycemic control, vascular function, and cardiopulmonary fitness, as well as reducing stress levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. The reduced HbA1c levels are particularly significant as HbA1c levels are a measure of long-term glycemic control the “gold standard” marker of diabetes control.

 

These results are quite remarkable. The exact same exercise has significantly greater benefit for patients with type 2 diabetes when it employs mindfulness while engaging in the exercise. This effect might have occurred in part because mindfulness training produces a reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity and increases parasympathetic activity, thereby reducing activation during exercise. This improved physiological relaxation may increase the impact of the exercise. Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress. This may make the exercise less stressful and more enjoyable, maximizing its impact.

 

Regardless of the explanation the results clearly suggest that you can improve type II diabetes with walking meditation. They further suggest that combining mindfulness with virtually any exercise may make it more beneficial for patients with type 2 diabetes and possibly for any disease which can be helped with exercise. This should be a rich area for future research.

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

“Meditation is a way of relaxing the mind through techniques such as focusing and controlled breathing. People meditate to reduce stress and relieve a variety of physical ailments. Recent research showed meditation can also help people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels.” – ADW Diabetes

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Gainey A, Himathongkam T, Tanaka H, Suksom D. Effects of Buddhist walking meditation on glycemic control and vascular function in patients with type 2 diabetes. Complement Ther Med. 2016 Jun;26:92-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2016.03.009. Epub 2016 Mar 10.

 

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: To investigate and compare the effects of Buddhist walking meditation and traditional walking on glycemic control and vascular function in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.

METHODS: Twenty three patients with type 2 diabetes (50-75 years) were randomly allocated into traditional walking exercise (WE; n=11) or Buddhism-based walking meditation exercise (WM; n=12). Both groups performed a 12-week exercise program that consisted of walking on the treadmill at exercise intensity of 50-70% maximum heart rate for 30min/session, 3 times/week. In the WM training program, the participants performed walking on the treadmill while concentrated on foot stepping by voiced “Budd” and “Dha” with each foot step that contacted the floor to practice mindfulness while walking.

RESULTS: After 12 weeks, maximal oxygen consumption increased and fasting blood glucose level decreased significantly in both groups (p<0.05). Significant decrease in HbA1c and both systolic and diastolic blood pressure were observed only in the WM group. Flow-mediated dilatation increased significantly (p<0.05) in both exercise groups but arterial stiffness was improved only in the WM group. Blood cortisol level was reduced (p<0.05) only in the WM group.

CONCLUSION: Buddhist walking meditation exercise produced a multitude of favorable effects, often superior to traditional walking program, in patients with type 2 diabetes.