Visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins

Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2008 Jan-Mar;21(1):117-27. doi: 10.1177/039463200802100113.


We previously reported that a forest bathing trip enhanced human NK activity, number of NK cells, and intracellular anti-cancer proteins in lymphocytes. In the present study, we investigated how long the increased NK activity lasts and compared the effect of a forest bathing trip on NK activity with a trip to places in a city without forests. Twelve healthy male subjects, age 35-56 years, were selected with informed consent. The subjects experienced a three-day/two-night trip to forest fields and to a city, in which activity levels during both trips were matched. On day 1, subjects walked for two hours in the afternoon in a forest field; and on day 2, they walked for two hours in the morning and afternoon, respectively, in two different forest fields; and on day 3, the subjects finished the trip and returned to Tokyo after drawing blood samples and completing the questionnaire. Blood and urine were sampled on the second and third days during the trips, and on days 7 and 30 after the trip, and NK activity, numbers of NK and T cells, and granulysin, perforin, and granzymes A/B-expressing lymphocytes in the blood samples, and the concentration of adrenaline in urine were measured. Similar measurements were made before the trips on a normal working day as the control. Phytoncide concentrations in forest and city air were measured. The forest bathing trip significantly increased NK activity and the numbers of NK, perforin, granulysin, and granzyme A/B-expressing cells and significantly decreased the concentration of adrenaline in urine. The increased NK activity lasted for more than 7 days after the trip. In contrast, a city tourist visit did not increase NK activity, numbers of NK cells, nor the expression of selected intracellular anti-cancer proteins, and did not decrease the concentration of adrenaline in urine. Phytoncides, such as alpha-pinene and beta-pinene were detected in forest air, but almost not in city air. These findings indicate that a forest bathing trip increased NK activity, number of NK cells, and levels of intracellular anti-cancer proteins, and that this effect lasted at least 7 days after the trip. Phytoncides released from trees and decreased stress hormone may partially contribute to the increased NK activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antigens, Differentiation, T-Lymphocyte / biosynthesis*
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic*
  • Epinephrine / urine
  • Granzymes / biosynthesis*
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perforin / biosynthesis*
  • Relaxation Therapy*
  • Temperature
  • Trees*


  • Antigens, Differentiation, T-Lymphocyte
  • GNLY protein, human
  • Perforin
  • Granzymes
  • Epinephrine