Spending time in nature can have positive effects on our mental health. The Japanese actually have a term for it, “shinrin yoku”, or “forest bathing” means taking in the forest atmosphere; an easy task that provides some amazing benefits. All there is to do to do is visit some kind of natural area like a park, hiking trail, lake, forest, etc… and walk in a relaxed way. It may take a minute to figure out what the most “relaxed way” of walking is for you, but you will and, when you do, walk relaxed for a while. You may start to feel any number of calming, rejuvenating, and restorative benefits.
Over the past several decades researchers have begun to identify a ton of cognitive and emotional benefits that the practice of shinrin yoku (forest bathing) can provide, including the following…
A boost in immune system function and accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
Reduced blood pressure
Reduced levels of stress
Improvements in mood
Increased ability to focus, including individuals with ADHD like symptoms
Increased levels of energy
Improvements in sleep
Healthy adults show significant health related gains after nature walks and, in 2012, researchers conduced a study aimed to determine whether or not many of these benefits are experienced in individuals who have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Participants engaged in two separate walks, one in an urban setting and one in a natural setting. Participants were required to think of a negative memory in order to induce a negative mood prior to their walk. After each walk, both the nature and urban walks, participants experienced significant cognitive and affective improvements. This study suggests that simply interacting with nature, even when thinking of a painful memory, is beneficial for people suffering from major depressive disorder. They took it one step further and found that the positive effects identified are five times as large as the effect size observed in “healthy” individuals (Berman, et al., 2012)!
Getting out in nature is not only fun, it’s extremely beneficial for your overall physical and mental health! I’ll be writing lots more on the benefits of being outdoors, but hopefully you can use this as an introduction into thinking about and getting outside!
Berman, M.G., Kross, E., Krpan, K.M., Askeren, M.K., Burson, A., Deldin, P.J., …Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 140(3), 300-305.
Home. (2016). Retrieved December 14, 2017, from http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org
Shinrin-yoku, the medicine of being in the forest. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2017, from http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/