‘Forest bathing’ improves mood and positivity, decreases anxiety

YORK, United Kingdom — Feeling blue? New research suggests adding some more greenery to your life. Scientists at the University of York say that consistently engaging in more “nature-based activities” can improve mental health among adults – even those already struggling with a pre-existing mental health condition.

A “nature-based activity” is pretty much anything that gets you out of the house and active while surrounded by nature and wildlife. Examples include gardening, going for a walk or jog, conservation activities, and “forest bathing,” which just means going to a wooded area and taking a moment to soak in and enjoy the atmosphere.

According to this work, natured-based activities lasting for roughly 20 to 90 minutes engaged in regularly for eight to 12 weeks have the biggest impact on improving mood, decreasing anxiety, and increasing overall positivity.

To reach these conclusions the research team analyzed 50 prior relevant studies encompassing 14,321 NBI (nature-based intervention) records. NBIs encourage people to engage with nature in a structured manner as a means of improving mental well-being.

“We’ve known for some time that being in nature is good for health and wellbeing, but our study reinforces the growing evidence that doing things in nature is associated with large gains in mental health,” says lead study author Dr. Peter Coventry, from the Department of Health Sciences, in a university release. “While doing these activities on your own is effective, among the studies we reviewed it seems that doing them in groups led to greater gains in mental health.”

Can forest bathing improve physical health too?

For what it’s worth, the analysis suggests that nature activities aren’t quite as beneficial regarding physical health. However, study authors also state that society needs better methods of measuring the impact of nature-based activities on physical health.

In conclusion, the research team believes more time, money, and resources should go into campaigns encouraging and advertising the benefits of spending time in nature. Importantly, however, they add that it may not be enough to simply “be around” nature.

“One of the key ideas that might explain why nature-based activities are good for us is that  they help to connect us with nature in meaningful ways that go beyond passively viewing nature,” Dr. Coventry concludes.

The study is published in the journal SSM – Population Health.