Objective: To provide scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of forest bathing as a natural therapy by investigating its physiological benefits using biological indicators in outdoor settings.
Study design: Within-group comparisons were used to examine psychological and physiological responses to exposure to real forest and urban environments.
Methods: Young Japanese male adults participated in a 3-day, 2-night field experiment. Physiological responses as well as self-reported psychological responses to forest and urban environmental stimuli were measured in real settings. The results of each indicator were compared against each environmental stimulus.
Results: Heart rate variability analysis indicated that the forest environment significantly increased parasympathetic nervous activity and significantly suppressed sympathetic activity of participants compared with the urban environment. Salivary cortisol level and pulse rate decreased markedly in the forest setting compared with the urban setting. In psychological tests, forest bathing significantly increased scores of positive feelings and significantly decreased scores of negative feelings after stimuli compared with the urban stimuli.
Conclusion: Physiological data from this field experiment provide important scientific evidence on the health benefits of forest bathing. The results support the concept that forest bathing has positive effects on physical and mental health, indicating that it can be effective for health promotion. Despite the small sample size in this study, a very clear tendency towards positive physiological and psychological outcomes in forests was observed.
Copyright © 2010 The Royal Society for Public Health. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.