Introduction: The global rise of urbanization has much triggered scientific interest in how nature impacts on human health. Natural environments, such as alpine landscapes, forests, or urban green spaces, are potential high-impact health resources. While there is a growing body of evidence to reveal a positive influence of these natural environments on human health and well-being, further investigations guided by rigorous evidence-based medical research are very much needed.
Objective: The present study protocol aims at testing research methodologies in the context of a prospective clinical trial on nature-based interventions. This shall improve the standards of medical research in human-nature interactions.
Methods: The ANKER Study investigates the influence of two novel types of nature-based therapy-mountain hiking and forest therapy-on physiological, psychological, and immunological parameters of couples with a sedentary lifestyle. Two intervention groups were formed and spent a seven-day holiday in Algund, Italy. The "forest therapy group" participated in daily guided low-power nature connection activities. The "hiking group", by contrast, joined in a daily moderate hiking program. Health-related quality of life and relationship quality are defined as primary outcomes. Secondary outcomes include nature connection, balance, cardio-respiratory fitness, fractional exhaled nitric oxide, body composition and skin hydration. Furthermore, a new approach to measure health-related quality of life is validated. The so-called "intercultural quality of life" comic assesses the health-related quality of life with a digitally animated comic-based tool.
Keywords: climate therapy; forest therapy; green exercise; health-related quality of life (HRQOL); intercultural quality of life assessment; nature and health; sedentary lifestyle.