Research of over 290 million people has linked numerous health benefits to outdoor practices like forest bathing. Have you tried it?

A University of East Anglia study that found that practices like forest bathing or exposure to green spaces reduce the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure.

“Spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing hasn’t been fully understood,” says lead author Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School,

“We gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people to see whether nature really does provide a health boost.”

Forest bathing is already really popular as a therapy in Japan – with participants spending time in the forest either sitting or lying down, or just walking around. Our study shows that perhaps they have the right idea! –  Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett

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What is forest bathing?

The research team studied data from 20 countries, including Japan – where Shinrin yoku or ‘forest bathing’ is a popular practice.

“Forest bathing is already really popular as a therapy in Japan – with participants spending time in the forest either sitting or lying down, or just walking around. Our study shows that perhaps they have the right idea!” says Twohig-Bennett.

Does it have to be a forest?

Spending time in any green space has benefits – even if it isn’t a forest.

The research found that there are benefits to spending time in natural green spaces, defined as open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation, and urban green spaces, which includes urban parks.

“We found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration.

“People living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress. In fact, one of the really interesting things we found is that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol – a physiological marker of stress,” says Twohig-Bennett.

Related: Why green neighbourhoods matter

What makes green spaces healthy spaces

“People living near greenspace are likely to have more opportunities for physical activity and socialising. Meanwhile, exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas may also have benefits for the immune system and reduce inflammation,” says Twohig-Bennett

“Much of the research from Japan suggests that phytoncides – organic compounds with antibacterial properties – released by trees could explain the health-boosting properties of forest bathing.”

The research team hopes that their findings will prompt doctors and other healthcare professionals to recommend that patients spend more time in greenspace and natural areas.

Source: University of East Anglia via www.sciencedaily.com

Related: Urban nature and mental wellbeing

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.