Everyone has stress. It is a normal part of life. You can feel stress in your body when you have too much to do or when you haven’t slept well. You can also feel stress when you worry about things like your job, money, relationships, or a friend or family member who is ill or in need.
If you live in a big city, you are likely to feel it even more. The fast pace of a busy and noisy city with long commutes, filled with the never-ending traffic of rush hour are just a few examples that can make a day seem longer than it really is.
For this reason, taking breaks has been shown to be important in recovering from stress, which can, in turn, improve your performance at work or help see complex problems as simpler ones, which can be more easily resolved.
Recovering from work stress can restore energy and mental resources and decrease the development of fatigue, sleep disorders, and cardiovascular disease. However, while staying at home or going on a trip are excellent ways to disconnect, there can still be some stress associated with chores, house maintenance, and bills, to the stress of booking hotels, catching connecting flights, or renovating your passport.
Sometimes you just need to escape into nowhere. Somewhere remote, with peace and quiet. Nature has proven, time and time again, the many benefits it has on human health. Every year researchers are finding more evidence that nature and walking have significant improvements on your mental and physical health. And just to be clear, this doesn’t mean that we all need to go live in the woods for a month. A simple, short-timed walk, in a calm and quiet place, surrounded by the greenery and the sound of the birds can have huge benefits.
The Science Behind the Benefits of Basking in Nature
Walking in nature can boost your mood, strengthen your immune system, reduce stress and anxiety, inspire creative thinking, be fun and educational, improve observational skills and cognitive function, weight loss and help you sleep better, and altogether add quality years to your life.
In 2019, the scientific team composed of Chorong Song, Harumi Ikei, Takahide Kagawa, and Yoshifumi Miyazaki published a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showing the various positive effects that walking in a forest has on young women.
A total of 60 participants were enrolled with an average age of 21 years, divided into six forest areas and six city areas in Japan, the test and the control groups, respectively. They were instructed to walk in these areas for 15 minutes, during which their heart rate variability, heart rate, blood pressure, and pulse rate were measured to quantify their physiological responses to walking in their designated areas. The researchers also used the modified semantic differential method, the Profile of Mood States (POMS), and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) tests to determine their psychological responses during their walks.
The participants were taken individually to their test and control sites, where their baseline physical vitals, such as blood pressure and pulse rate were measured. Each participant then walked along a given course in the experimental area for approximately 15 minutes at their normal walking pace. The walking course in each area was approximately 1 km, and the distances between the forest and city areas were similar. Each participant had their heart rate variance constantly monitored. After completing the walk, the participant rested for five minutes and their blood pressure and pulse rate were again measured, being then subjected to their psychological evaluation.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Forest Bathing via Heart Rate Variability
The researchers used the high-frequency values of the participant’s heart rate variability as an indicator of their parasympathetic nervous activity, which is enhanced in relaxing situations while using the low-frequency values as an indicator of their sympathetic nervous activity, which increases in stressful situations.
The participants of this study presented a significantly increased parasympathetic nervous activity, for forest walking than for city walking. On the contrary, during their forest walks, the participants presented a significant decrease in their sympathetic nervous activity, when compared with their city walks. In addition, their heart rate was significantly lower during forest walking than during city walking.
Significant differences between the forest and city experiments were also observed for all the psychological measures. The participants felt significantly more comfortable, relaxed, and natural when walking in forests than when walking in city areas.
Overall, during their forest walks, the participants presented a lower total mood disturbance score, with significantly lower scores on the tension and anxiety, depression and dejection, anger and hostility, fatigue, and confusion aspects, while showing higher vigor scores.
Numerous previous studies have already demonstrated the same effects of forest environments in mitigating stress states and inducing physiological relaxation in young men.
For these, time spent in a forest environment, such as walking through a forest and/or viewing the scenery, can reduce levels of the salivary stress hormone cortisol, and pulse rate, as well as increase their parasympathetic nervous activity while decreasing their sympathetic nervous activity.
Forest therapy trips have also been shown to increase natural killer cell activity and improve immunity, with these effects lasting for approximately one month.
The ‘Right to Roam’ Holds Exponential Healing Capabilities
Several cultures know and value the importance of nature in our lives. In Japan, the term “shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing” has well documented and proven beneficial effects on the general population.
The accumulation of data has resulted in the concept of “forest therapy” referring to the evidence-based forest bathing to achieve a preventive medical effect by inducing physiological relaxation and immune system recovery.
The freedom to roam, or “every man’s right,” is the general public’s right to access certain public or privately owned land, lakes, and rivers for recreation and exercise. The right is sometimes called the right of public access to the wilderness or the “right to roam.” In Scotland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland, the freedom to roam takes the form of general public rights which are sometimes codified in the country’s law.