The present study aimed to evaluate the effect of walking in forest environments on autonomic nervous activity with special reference to its distribution characteristics. Heart rate variability (HRV) of 485 male participants while walking for ~15 min in a forest and an urban area was analyzed. The experimental sites were 57 forests and 57 urban areas across Japan. Parasympathetic and sympathetic indicators [lnHF and ln(LF/HF), respectively] of HRV were calculated based on ~15-min heart rate recordings. Skewness and kurtosis of the distributions of lnHF and ln(LF/HF) were almost the same between the two environments, although the means and medians of the indicators differed significantly. Percentages of positive responders [presenting an increase in lnHF or a decrease in ln(LF/HF) in forest environments] were 65.2 and 67.0%, respectively. The percentage of lnHF was significantly smaller than our previous results on HRV during the viewing of urban or forest landscapes, whereas the percentage of ln(LF/HF) was not significantly different. The results suggest that walking in a forest environment has a different effect on autonomic nervous activity than viewing a forest landscape.
Keywords: forest therapy; heart rate variability (HRV); kurtosis; population approach; skewness; walking.