Nature Walks for an Improved Well-Being
A famous naturalist, essayist, and philosopher Thoreau believed that spending time with nature allows us to reflect on our life and make realizations that are helpful in our quest to grow maturely. He said, “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” True enough, several pieces of evidence have resulted from studies revealing the positive effects of spending time with nature. However, Americans spend most of their time indoors.
In addition, people across the globe are dealing with various issues related to physiology, mental health, and even higher-order cognition. With this growing number of people, practitioners are in continuous search of multiple interventions that can help struggling people with these issues.
While many treatments, therapies, meditations, and other ways are being suggested to manage well-being-related issues, spending time in nature is being looked at as an alternative way to contribute positively to the well-being of a person.
Let us look at the following nature-related activities and see if these can help us become happier and healthier and attain higher-order cognition.
Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing, is a traditional practice originating in Japan where one immerses with nature to enhance their overall well-being. The person can use the five senses to experience nature’s surroundings by taking in the forest atmosphere. This recreation originated from the Japanese forest service in the year 1982.
Physiological Effects of Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is said to bring positive physical health results. Chia-Pin and Hsieh gave detailed information to support this fact. Notable benefits are as follows:
- Pulse rates are reduced
- The cardiovascular system is improved
- Anti-cancer immunity is boosted
- The respiratory system dealing with allergies and respiratory diseases is improved
- The sympathetic nervous system is decreased; the person is more relaxed
- The parasympathetic nervous system is increased; the person can rest well; digestion is improved
Mental Health Effects of Forest Bathing
With the serenity nature presents, it is only apparent that a person will experience reduced stress levels once immersed in it. Hence, this is one of the most noted benefits of forest therapy. Along with this, here are the other beneficial effects of forest bathing on a person’s mental health:
- The stress hormone cortisol is reduced
- Anxiousness is minimized
- The overall mood is improved
- Depressive feelings are managed
- A positive outlook toward everyday life is realized
Higher-Order Cognitive Effects of Forest Bathing
According to scientific studies, forest bathing help promote higher cognitive function. This includes increased directed attention, attentional capacity, and cognitive flexibility. According to the literature on forest bathing, there is also evidence of improved memory.
Aside from the benefits forest therapy can do to attention, researchers have conducted studies to see its positive effects on creativity. Atchley et al. conducted a Remote Association Test, a widely-used and reliable tool to measure the creativity and problem-solving of people. After four days of exposure to nature by the participants, the results indicated a 50 percent increase in the scores, which means spending time in nature may enhance one’s creativity.
The same test was conducted by Chia-Pin Yu and HsuanHseih on participants before and after attending a three-day forest therapy workshop. The workshop aimed to make use of various sensory and therapeutic activities done using natural resources. Such activities include observing the forest, outdoor meditation, listening to nature sounds, flower viewing, and aromatherapy. Same as the previously tested, the participants in this workshop attained a significant increase of about 23.74 percent in their RAT scores—an increase from the test they took before attending the workshop. Though the study can still be improved, the results of such a test were a good start in conducting more rigorous research on forest bathing in the future.
How Does Forest Bathing Improve Well-Being?
Heard of bathing all the five senses? Bathing our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch can help activate the Default Mode Network of the brain. Through bathing, our mind becomes calm, and distraction is reduced. This, in turn, allows the executive functioning areas, the command, and control center, to rest and revitalize.
Aside from this, spending time with nature helps develop mental habits, responding with wonderment and awe. This mind habit can help improve cognitive function and enhance creative ability.
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” —John Muir
God’s creations are majestic and wonderfully made, not just because of their appearance. It offers a sanctuary for people who seek peace and freedom from the feelings of anxiety, depression, and panic brought about by urban lifestyles. Nature has the most inviting atmosphere and ample space for bathing and walking, positively affecting mental, physical, creative, and other higher-cognitive processes. As creativity is now being given much importance in the ever-changing world, the more we need to consider nature as a means to further human growth.
Nature interruptions can help us break away from the draining demands of modern life. Examples of nature interruptions can be as simple as taking a short break to walk in nearby parks or gardens or vacations in cabins in the woods and mountains. Nature interruptions can improve physical and mental health, which will help fire up cognition and yield innovation.