What Woods Walking Can Do For Your Heart Rate And Mood

In Japan, they actually call this “Forest Medicine”, and they build forest parks on the rooftops of hospitals. 

In this pilot study, researchers from Chiba University and Nippon Medical School in Japan studied the impact of brief forest walking on middle-aged, hypertensive adults, seeking some hard evidence of positive effects.  

Twenty participants, average age just short of 59 years old, were instructed to take 17-minute walks on predetermined courses, in either the forest (an urban park) or an urban environment, at comparable walking speed, course difficulty, weather and degree of sunlight. 

Heart rate variability (HRV) and heart rate were measured to quantify physiological responses.  Psychological responses were measured using the Profile of Mood States.

The researchers found that the high-frequency component of Heart Rate Variability was significantly higher, and heart rate (pulse) was significantly lower when participants walked in the forest park, as compared to when they walked in the urban environment.

The questionnaire results indicated that, compared with the urban environment, walking in the forest increased feelings of "comfortable", "relaxed", "natural" and "vigorous"; and decreased feelings of "tension-anxiety," "depression," "anxiety-hostility," "fatigue" and "confusion".

They conclude that this pilot shows great promise that a brief walk in a forest setting can elicit physiological and psychological relaxation effects on middle-aged hypertensive individuals, lowering heart rate and improving HRV.

Citation: Song C1, Ikei H2, Kobayashi M3, Miura T4, Taue M5, Kagawa T6, Li Q7, Kumeda S8, Imai M9, Miyazaki Y10. Effect of forest walking on autonomic nervous system activity in middle-aged hypertensive individuals: a pilot study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015 Mar 2;12(3):2687-99. doi: 10.3390/ijerph120302687. Japan. syoukan@town.agematsu.nagano.jp.

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