Background: In recent years, many of Japanese workers have complained of fatigue and stress, considering them as risk factors for depression. Studies have found that "forest bathing" (Shinrin-yoku) has positive physiological effects, such as blood pressure reduction, improvement of autonomic and immune functions, as well as psychological effects of alleviating depression and improving mental health. In this study, we investigate the physiological and psychological effects of "forest bathing" on people of a working age with and without depressive tendencies.
Methods: We conducted physiological measurements and psychological surveys before and after forest bathing with subjects who participated in day-long sessions of forest bathing, at a forest therapy base located in Hiroshima Prefecture. After excluding severely depressed individuals, the participants were classified into two groups: those with depressive tendencies (5 ≤ K6 ≤ 12) and those without depressive tendencies (K6 < 5) for comparative study. The evaluation indices measured were systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP), pulse rate (PR), autonomic functions, and profile of mood states (POMS).
Results: Of the 155 participants, 37% had depressive tendencies, without any differences observed between males and females. All participants showed significant decrease in SBP, DBP, and in negative POMS items after a forest bathing session. Before the session, those with depressive tendencies scored significantly higher on the POMS negative items than those without depressive tendencies. After forest bathing, those with depressive tendencies demonstrated significantly greater improvement in many of POMS items than those without depressive tendencies, and many of them no longer differed between those with and without depressive tendencies.
Conclusions: Examining the physiological and psychological effects of a day-long session of forest bathing on a working age group demonstrated significant positive effects on mental health, especially in those with depressive tendencies. Not applicable; this is not a report of intervention trial.
Keywords: Depressive tendencies; Forest bathing; Physiological effects; Psychological effects; Working age.