Forest and Urban Shinrin Yoku’s positive effects?

Milena A. Guziak digests the research

Takayama, N., Korpela, K., Lee, J., Morikawa, T., Tsunetsugu, Y., Park, B. J., Li, Q., Tyrväinen, L., Miyazaki, Y., & Kagawa, T. (2014). Emotional, restorative and vitalizing effects of forest and urban environments at four sites in Japan. International journal of environmental research and public health, 11(7), 7207–7230.

People of various age groups tend to feel negative emotions such as anxiety, loneliness, and sadness; when of long duration and strong intensiveness, these may lead to their pathological expressions and hinder experiencing positive emotions. Ways of preventing and managing these negative states are necessary. An international team in Japan, published in the journal International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, has investigated one promising preventive measure: Shinrin Yoku.

As the research team notes, walking in forests is a common recreational activity in Japan and is believed to promote both mental and physical health.

Earlier work shows that natural environments, including but not limited to urban parks, native forests, and secondary man-made forests can be in general associated with stronger positive health benefits as compared to typical urban scenery devoid of green spaces such as agglomerates of buildings. So what are these effects?

In the context of physiological effects of Shinrin Yoku on the human body, studies conducted in Japan reports: 
lower concentrations of cortisol, 
lower blood pressure,
lower pulse rates, 
decreased sympathetic nerve activity component of heart-rate variability enhanced parasympathetic nerve activity, and
higher levels of natural killer (NK) cell activity when participants did Shinrin Yoku in a forest environment, as opposed to Shinrin Yoku in an urban environment.

Regarding psychological effects of Shinrin Yoku, the Multiple Mood Scale-Short Form (MSS) showed higher scores for friendliness and wellbeing, and low score for depression on the day spent walking in the forest as opposed to the control day (no walk in the forest). This was true amongst those who suffer from chronic mental stress.  This could be applied as a negative emotion management strategy, the team reasoned – by increasing positive emotions. Thus the study focused on the wellbeing effects of short-term forest walking and viewing. Specifically, the team hypothesized that both environment (forest vs. urban) and activity (walking and viewing) would influence psychological outcomes. For the purpose of the research the team defined Shinrin Yoku as a forest walking and viewing. 

To investigate the potential positive effects of short-term forest bathing, the team recruited the total of 45 healthy young male adults aged 19 to 24 at four sites in Japan, located in different prefectures: Nara, Oita, Hiroshima, and Toyama. At each location, participants were randomly divided into two groups, each with five to six respondents, which were sent to either a forest area (experimental area) or an urban area (control area). Both groups were told to take a 15-min walk before noon and a 15-min view in the afternoon. The experiment lasted 2 days.

The participants completed a battery of surveys before and after Shinrin Yoku sessions at each site and under each conditions: Profile of Mood States (POMS), Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), Restorative Outcome Scale (ROS); Subjective Vitality Scale (SVS).  

First of all, the team found no differences in the respondents’ psychological responses (mood-POMS, affect-PANAS, restorative outcomes-ROS, subjective vitality-SVS) between Forest and Urban Shinrin Yoku before the experiment. However, some key differences in the scales’ scores between the experimental and control condition after the experiment were found. The analysis of the results obtained from the survey discovered that mood worsened, negative feelings increased and feelings of restoration and vitality decreased in an urban environment. Conversely, positive feelings, subjective restoration and vitality increased and negative feelings (tension and anxiety, depression, confusion) declined in the forest environment.

As the team cautions, most of the participants were Japanese male students, so the result may not generalize to other groups i.e. demographics, educational, ethnicity, nationality, etc. In addition, the study focused only on investigating the short-term psychological effects, leaving out potential long-term effects. The distinction between walking and viewing condition may not be as clear-cut. What about different forest settings and activities in the forest? Would the results be the same? Or perhaps there is something else, innate factors responsible for the improved wellbeing. How does it connect to our personality traits and motivation?

Whatever the reason behind the results, the work does suggest that for this specific group, short stay in the forest is beneficial, more beneficial than Urban Shinrin Yoku i.e. it improves mood, heightens positive affect, induces a feeling of subjective restoration and subjective vitality.

The Definitive Guide to Shinrin Yoku Training

Here is all you need to know about Shinrin Yoku training. Comprehensive information on how to become a certified guide and instructor, how to choose the right institution, the career path of certified Shinrin Yoku guide and instructor, the health benefits of Shinrin Yoku, how to practice Shinrin Yoku by yourself, how to design a Shinrin Yoku trips or retreats, how to create a business around the idea of Shinrin Yoku and more.

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