Have you heard of the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku? Broadly put, it’s the notion of ‘forest-bathing’ – immersing yourself in nature for the purposes of relaxation, meditation and mood improvement.
You may have noticed the changes in mood taking a walk through nature can induce. Some research suggests that those living in urban areas typically have higher blood pressure, stress levels and a greater propensity to develop depression.
So could getting back to nature offer a remedy for the blues of city life?
To find out, US researchers surveyed visitors to urban parks in Alabama. Urban parks were simply areas of greenery or vegetation within city boundaries. The researchers asked park visitors basic questions like their age and gender, as well as how often they visited urban green spaces and their ‘subjective well-being’; how well they felt at the moment and their overall satisfaction with life. They also gave visitors an accelerometer (which measures physical activity) to wear so they could see how much they moved about during their visit. Then, visitors did the entire questionnaire again as they were leaving the park. The researchers also measured how much time they spent at the park.
They found that most of the visitors to the park stayed for around half an hour, and about a third of people exercised while they were there. For the majority of visitors, there was a significant improvement in their sense of wellbeing after they’d visited the green space. That was the case even if they spent a relatively short amount of time in the park – about 20 minutes and the improvements were seen even in those who didn’t exercise.
We still don’t really know how it is that green spaces have such a positive effect on mood.
The researchers think it could have something to do with the reduced stimulus and calming surrounds of a park, as opposed to urban spaces full of people, traffic and noise.
If you’re looking for a free daily intervention to improve your mood and relax, maybe it’s time to take a detour on your morning commute and indulge in a bit of urban forest-bathing.