Since 1949, May is observed as Mental Health Month – as an effort to promote awareness and education around mental illnesses and the 18.1% of Americans who suffer from them.
Additionally, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas and that proportion is projected to increase to 70 percent by 2050. Despite many benefits of urbanization, studies show that the mental health of urban dwellers can be negatively affected by their city environment. Finding that bit of green space in cities or spending time in nature visiting rural areas may do more than provide a temporary escape from concrete, steel and glass – it boosts your mental state and helps out your health.
One way to boost mental health through nature (that we’re fond of) is a Japanese practice called shinrin-yoku, which roughly translates to forest bath. Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing is said to have officially started in the early 1980s in Japan, where it continues to be a form of preventative medicine and natural treatment. When you practice forest bathing, you are not trying to get a sweat-producing workout in or reach the end of a long trail. Rather, you are simply connecting with the nature around you.
One of the most impressive effects of forest bathing is its ability to encourage relaxation and reduce stress, which is huge since stress plays a role in so many acute and chronic diseases. Here’s how:
- Boost Immune Function
There’s a reason people call it ‘fresh’ air. Spending time outside you’re less likely to pick up a virus, since you’re not breathing in the same recycled air as everyone else quite as much. “Cold and flu happen in the winter because people are huddled indoors, where you’re more likely to be exposed to those viruses,” says Francis Neric, senior director of certification for the American College of Sports Medicine.
- Lower Blood Pressure
One study compared the effects of walking in the city to taking a forest walk. Both activities required the same amount of physical activity, but researchers found that the forest environment led to more significant reductions in blood pressure and certain stress hormones. On average, the forest walkers — who ranged in age from 36 to 77 — saw a reduction in their systolic blood pressure from 141 mmHg down to 134 mmHg after four hours in the forest.
- Reduce Stress and Negative Thoughts
Another study systematically reviewed almost 1,000 articles on the health benefits of forest bathing. They found that forest bathing is a proven anti-stress practice. On top of that – simply planning to visit a forest seemed to positively influence cortisol (stress hormone) levels, even before physically interacting with it!
- Boost Mental Wellbeing
“Nature can be beneficial for mental health,” says Irina Wen, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and clinical director of the Steven A. Military Family Clinic at NYU Langone Medical Center. “It reduces cognitive fatigue and can be helpful with depression and anxiety.”
So how much time with nature is enough to get these intended benefits? “Anything from 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week, to regular three-day weekends in the woods is helpful,” says Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance Dr. Strauss. “The point is to make your interactions a part of your normal lifestyle.”
We’ll see you outside! We have plenty of opportunities for you to spend time among trees. Live in the city and want to make your own property a lush-green oasis? Request FREE trees for your home here! Don’t have a yard but know a community space that could be transformed? Request FREE trees for a community space here!