This study aimed to investigate the effects of a two-day forest therapy program on individuals with chronic widespread pain. Sixty one employees of a public organization providing building and facilities management services within the Seoul Metropolitan area participated in the study. Participants were assigned to an experimental group (n = 33) who participated in a forest therapy program or a control group (n = 28) on a non-random basis. Pre- and post-measures of heart rate variability (HRV), Natural Killer cell (NK cell) activity, self-reported pain using the visual analog scale (VAS), depression level using the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and health-related quality of life measures using the EuroQol Visual Analog Scale (EQ-VAS) were collected in both groups. The results showed that participants in the forest therapy group, as compared to the control group, showed physiological improvement as indicated by a significant increase in some measures of HRV and an increase in immune competence as indicated by NK cell activity. Participants in the forest therapy group also reported significant decreases in pain and depression, and a significant improvement in health-related quality of life. These results support the hypothesis that forest therapy is an effective intervention to relieve pain and associated psychological and physiological symptoms in individuals with chronic widespread pain.
Keywords: NK cell activity; autonomic nervous system; chronic widespread pain; depression; forest therapy; quality of life.